In conjunction with NASA, SpaceX, owned by Tesla car maker Elon Musk, successfully launched its Crew Dragon capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sunday evening, at 7.27 eastern time (0027GMT). Onboard were four astronauts bound for the International Space Station (ISS), the first to be transported to the space station by an American-built rocket in over nine years.
More recent trips to the ISS have relied on securing places onboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. This is also the first trip to the ISS onboard a privately built spacecraft, the U.S. and NASA deciding not to continue the original space shuttle program in 2011.
In 2014 both SpaceX and Boeing were awarded contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to develop competitive space capsules to replace the shelved shuttle program with contracts worth US$2.6 billion and US$4.2 billion, respectively. Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has been delayed because of major software issues detected during a test mission last year, though officials expect it will be operational next year.
This is the first of six scheduled missions on behalf of NASA, though additional flights have been booked for private astronaut missions, including one believed to be for the Actor Tom Cruise, with a price tag estimated to be around the US$50 million-plus mark.
The launch and subsequent journey of the Crew Dragon capsule have been successful at the time of publication, with the duration of the flight set at 27 hours between launch and docking at the ISS. The original launch scheduled for November 15, had to be canceled owing to poor weather conditions which would have made recovery of the reusable booster stage difficult. Some two hours prior to launch, there was also an air pressure leak detected, but this problem was successfully resolved. The ISS orbits the Earth at an altitude of approximately 250 miles (400km) and the crew are expected to dock at around 11 p.m. eastern time today, November 16.