Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are set to become the first human passengers on a commercial SpaceX spacecraft later this week.
The two men will pilot the Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station from a launch on US soil later this week.
The launch is set to take place on Wednesday, May 27, and will be the ultimate test of SpaceX’s capabilities as a private space company.
Founded and run by billionaire Elon Musk, SpaceX has signed a deal with Nasa to carry astronauts and equipment up to the space station. The US national space agency hasn’t launched astronauts on its own craft since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
Nasa has always relied on Russian rockets to carry astronauts until now when it can pay SpaceX to provide a taxi service up to the orbiting space laboratory.
The mission, known as Demo-2, has had a number of setbacks but if it proves successful this week Nasa will certify Crew Dragon for regular flights to and from the ISS. It could pave the way for several more astronaut launches in the future.
When is the SpaceX Dragon launch taking place?
The launch is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, May 27 at 1.33pm local time. That works out to 9.33pm here in the UK.
If the launch is called off for any particular reason, SpaceX has reserved backup launch times at 12.22pm on Saturday, May 30 or 12pm on Sunday, May 31. Those timings are 8.22pm and 8pm in the UK respectively.
Where is the SpaceX Dragon launch taking place?
The launch will take place from Launch Complex 39A at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
This is the same launch pad that has been used in historic missions during the Apollo and space shuttle programs.
What is the equipment?
The Crew Dragon capsule will be launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
These rockets have been tried and tested during a number of cargo runs to the ISS and are famously re-usable. SpaceX has perfected the art of bringing the rockets back to Earth and landing them safely so they can be reused and therefore cut the cost dramatically.
In this case, the Falcon 9 booster will attempt to land on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean after it has delivered the Crew Dragon to orbit.
As is tradition, Nasa astronauts will get to name the rocket and that name will be unveiled tomorrow before the launch.
The Crew Dragon is designed to pilot itself automatically to the ISS and dock without any input from the astronauts. If you fancy trying to pilot one yourself, you can have a go with SpaceX’s free online simulator game.
How can I watch the SpaceX Dragon launch in the UK?
Both Nasa and SpaceX will provide live coverage of the launch and the mission for free online that you can watch from here in the UK.
The coverage from Nasa will start at 5.15pm on Wednesday ahead of the launch itself at 9.33pm.
You’ll be able to follow the action on Nasa’s online TV channel or on the official SpaceX YouTube channel.
Crew Dragon is scheduled to arrive at the space station at 4.29am on Thursday morning if you’re planning to stay up that late and follow it to the end.
Elon Musk described the launch as the ‘culmination of a truly incredible amount of work by SpaceX and NASA engineering, along with support of all International Space Station countries.’
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