Hawthorne-based SpaceX moved closer to another milestone Thursday when its sleek capsule designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station was rolled into launch position at Cape Canaveral, along with the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch it on a crucial test mission.
The Crew Dragon, a stepped-up version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft that are used to carry cargo to the Space Station, is scheduled for its first launch at 11:49 p.m. California time on Friday. The Crew Dragon mission will be unmanned, testing the new ship’s capabilities and ability to self-dock at the Space Station.
Cargo-carrying Dragon capsules are usually captured by the Space Station’s robotic arms and brought into the docking bay. The Crew Dragon is designed to dock and un-dock on its own.
Crew Dragon will be carrying a sensor-laden mannequin, outfitted in a SpaceX spacesuit, along with about 400 pounds of supplies and equipment. The spaceship is expected to arrive at the International Space Station at about 3 a.m. California time on Sunday.
The ship will remain docked at the station until about 11:30 p.m. California time March 7, when it begins its journey back to Earth. It is expected to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean — slowed by four parachutes — about six hours later.
Assuming the test flight goes well, SpaceX is scheduled to actually launch astronauts into space for a short demonstration flight this summer, possibly in July. NASA has already chosen astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley for the historic mission. Assuming no issues with that flight, two other astronauts — Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins — will later become the first humans carried by a Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.