Launch from Earth on a Falcon 9 rocket: check. Orbit the planet: check. Dock at the International Space Station: check. Head back to Earth: just hours away.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon has nearly completed its NASA Demo-1 mission. The next big step is to undock from the ISS and come back to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. You can tune in to NASA TV for all the action on Thursday and Friday.
NASA kicked off its live coverage on Thursday when the ISS crew closed the hatch leading to the capsule. The procedure went smoothly and as of 12:39 p.m. PT, Ripley — SpaceX’s astronaut dummy — has been locked away in the Crew Dragon ready to deploy.
The space agency will pick up with coverage of the undocking process, which is scheduled to start at 11 p.m. PT Thursday. Officially, undocking will occur at approximately 11:31 p.m. PT, so that’s a good slab of late night viewing.
Crew Dragon will spend a little time in space before re-entering the atmosphere. NASA TV will track the deorbit and landing starting around 4:30 a.m. PT Friday. The deorbit burn, powering the Crew Dragon back to Earth will be occurring not long after that at 4:50 a.m. and then the all important splashdown will occur at 5:45 a.m.
Crew Dragon delivered crew supplies and equipment to the ISS. While no humans were on board, the capsule did host a test dummy named Ripley and a, which was adopted by NASA astronaut Anne McClain. The capsule will return with research samples on board, but the cuddly Earth will remain behind on the ISS.
While, this next stage will test the Crew Dragon’s departure, re-entry and parachute systems. SpaceX’s Go Searcher recovery ship will pick up the capsule from the water.
This adventure marks the first test flight for NASA’s, which involves SpaceX and Boeing working to launch astronauts from US soil for the first time since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
Even if Crew Dragon passes scrutiny for the Demo-1 mission, there’s still one more giant test: an “in-flight abort” that will showcase the Crew Dragon’s safety features should something go wrong during launch. Provided that all runs smoothly, astronauts could launch in a SpaceX capsule as early as midyear.
Just one more box to check.
Originally published, March 5.
Update, March 7: Adds countdown to the mission’s end, updated timings for undocking and splashdown.