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SpaceX is about to send its crew module to the space station in a vital first test

March 1, 2019

The commercial space company will be performing its first test flight with its crew module on board. A dummy is coming along for the ride to the International Space Station.

The launch: If you live in the US and you want to watch the launch, you are going to have get up bright and early. Liftoff is currently scheduled for 2:49 a.m. EST from Kennedy Space Center.

No crew will be on board this time, just a sensor-equipped dummy (or “smartie,” as SpaceX calls it) named Ripley (after the Alien movies, of course). Its sensors are designed to gather data on what the experience will be like for a human astronaut on board later this year.

How it will play out: While weather forecasts are looking good right now, there’s always a chance that launch won’t happen on Saturday. If that’s the case, there is a backup launch slot reserved 72 hours later on March 5. When the launch does happen, 58 seconds after liftoff Max Q—the point of peak mechanical stress—will occur. Then, just 11 minutes after takeoff, the Dragon crew module will separate from the second stage and head out on its own.

On Sunday, the module will autonomously dock with the International Space Station for the first time. The astronauts on board the space station will be the ones in charge of monitoring the receiving process. The hatch will open two hours and 45 minutes after docking for the astronauts to enter the capsule (take a look around the inside the crew module in this NASA video).

What’s next: The capsule is also packed with sensors to inform any additional changes that need to be made before putting humans on board. As NASA’s commercial crew program manager Kathy Lueders put it in a NASA press conference yesterday, “We instrumented the crap out of this vehicle.” Some things that will be in the final version are missing from this test module, such as crew interfaces, but for the most part the crewed demo flight will be using the same vehicle. If all goes to plan, DM-2, the test flight with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley onboard the Dragon, will take off in July.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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