The Dragon cargo capsule safely launched last Tuesday has gone through its sensor and control tests in a flyby yesterday, coming within 1.5 miles (about 2.5 km) of the International Space Station permitting the crew aboard the ISS to check to make sure they could take control of the craft if they needed to. This morning the capsule has maneuvered close enough to the station to allow it to be snagged by the station’s external robotic arm, and visual inspection of the docking interface has shown no damage to the nut holes, O-rings and docking surfaces due to potential damage from micrometereorites – meaning that if they attempt to dock the capsule to the station, they don’t expect anything bad to happen. The solar panels to keep the capsule powered up are currently deployed, and the actual docking procedure connecting the two craft will happen sometime around 2:30 in the afternoon U.S. Central Time.
The station and its visitor are orbiting the Earth once every 92 minutes.
As soon as they’re finished setting up the docking sequence, the Dragon capsule will dock with the ISS, and make history. Hatch opening activities are planned for Saturday.
That it takes so long to dock a visiting craft compared to the few seconds it takes in the movies for fictional craft to do this reminds us of exactly how dangerous all this is – come in too fast, and you risk permanently damaging both craft. These are fragile vehicles, and they’re not bumper cars up there. There is zero margin for error.
SpaceX is still hard at work on the version of the capsule that will carry up to seven crew at a time, so this version is the cargo ship. It can carry about 7.5 tons of cargo going up, and about half that for the return trip.
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As of 17:02 UTC, the Dragon capsule is successfully berthed to the International Space Station. We can all exhale now. The staff and crew of Krypton Radio congratulates SpaceX and NASA on this momentous occasion.