SpaceX launches newest astronaut capsule toward space station in high-stakes test

SpaceX launches newest astronaut capsule toward space station in high-stakes test

SpaceX launches newest astronaut capsule toward space station in high-stakes test

The Crew Dragon is expected to reach the space station Sunday morning, merely 27 hours after liftoff.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A SpaceX rocket with an unmanned crew capsule blasted off on Saturday for the International Space Station, in a key milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from U.S. soil later this year.

Since then, it has been buying seats in Russian Soyuz rockets - the only ones capable of transporting humans there.

SpaceX's 16-foot-tall (4.9 meter) Crew Dragon capsule, atop a Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at TK 2:49 a.m. (0749 GMT), carrying a test dummy nicknamed Ripley.

Nasa had announced weather conditions were good head of the launch, with an 80 per cent chance of favourable weather.

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The excitement was palpable at Cape Canaveral, from the space-fan volunteers guiding media on site, to the tourists who came to watch. That's the main reason he founded SpaceX in 2002, the billionaire entrepreneur has said repeatedly over the years - to help humanity become a multiplanet species. Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years; NASA now pays $82 million per seat.

He said: "That is something we have to practise in preparation for crewed flight to make sure we're fast in the right spots, and have all the potential medical attention at the right time".

"It's been a long eight years", the Kennedy Space Center's director Bob Cabana, a former astronaut himself, said as SpaceX employees milled around the rocket.

The capsule successfully separated from the rocket about 11 minutes later, sparking cheers in the control room, and began its journey to the space station. It will not be tested until April, in a mission similar to SpaceX's.

Planning has been delayed by around three years, with the first manned SpaceX flight still pencilled in for July, though officials frequently refer to the end of 2019 as a more realistic deadline.

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Ripley - apparently named for the titular star of 1979 horror film "Alien" - is responsible for testing the effects of the capsule on any future onboard passengers.

Saturday's flight aims to test the vessel's reliability and safety in real-life conditions.

If all stages of this test go according to plan, a final "in-flight abort test" will be the only remaining hurdle before SpaceX can begin sending people into space. NASA is providing eight billion US dollars for SpaceX and Boeing to build and operate these new systems. "We're going to learn a ton from this mission".

"Every mission is important, but this is even more important, said Koenigsmann, the firm's vice-president for build and flight reliability".

While NASA has struggled to develop its Space Launch System, an analysis from NASA's Ames Research Center found that the dramatically lower launch costs SpaceX made possible offered "greatly expanded opportunities to exploit space" for many users including NASA. Now a professor of human spaceflight at the University of Southern California, Reisman said the atmosphere was electric.

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