The SpaceX Launch Program – Next Steps


On 30th May 2020, two NASA astronauts climbed inside a Crew Dragon space capsule and launched on top of a Falcon 9 rocket to fly to the International Space Station.

An Historic Mission

This SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch was historic for three main reasons…

1 They were the first astronauts to launch from American soil in nearly a decade.

2 Commercial companies are now in charge of both the design and production of space vehicles.

The vehicle was commercially made by the company SpaceX and not by NASA.  It was the culmination of NASA’s commercial crew program, and the first time a private company has ever launched humans into orbit.  Commercial companies are now in charge of both the design and production of space vehicles.

3 But the primary significance of this mission is that the US will no longer have to rely on Russia to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station.  

This could be the beginning of a very different era of human spaceflight.

The mission had a very different look from the space flights of the past.  SpaceX’s new crew capsule is called the Crew Dragon. It is designed specifically to launch on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.  Its chief purpose is to ferry people to and from low earth orbit.

The new capsule is fitted out with life support systems, sleek chairs and shiny touchscreen displays.  The astronauts’ custom-designed pressure suits are designed to keep them safe from the harsh environment of space if there is an emergency.  The astronauts control the crew dragon through their special touchscreen gloves.

SpaceX Automated Control Systems

The ISS (International Space Station) docking system, built into the capsule, is entirely automatic.  Using a sophisticated system of sensors and cameras, the vehicle can approach the International Space Station completely autonomously, and latch onto an ISS docking port.  (In 2019, the SpaceX spaceship, “Crew Dragon” flew unmanned to the International Space Station and docked automatically without any crew on board).

SpaceX can now use the capsule to create a new space tourism business.  In fact, the program is intended to kick-start the commercial space flight industry.

What are the next steps?

First, the two astronauts need to finish their mission. Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will spend a few weeks on board the International Space Station.

After that, they will climb back into the Crew Dragon and detach themselves from the space station. They will then make the perilous journey back to earth where a suite of parachutes will lower them gently into the ocean. They will then be retrieved by a SpaceX ship.

In the long term, this could become a standard operation for NASA, who are planning for private companies to build and deliver a Moon Lander vehicle onto the Moon.

This could be the beginning of a new space tourism program, commencing as early as 2021.

Read more about the SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launch.

Read more about Space Exploration

SpaceX Launch to the International Space Station

Spacex launch

The Purpose

The SpaceX launch today, known as Demo-2, will once again permit the US to send humans into space.  Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will take off for the International Space Station at 3:22 p.m. EDT May 30, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.  The SpaceX launch can be viewed live on NASA-TV

The rocket launch today will lay the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars, starting with NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.

According to NASA, the Demo-2 mission is intended to demonstrate the ability of SpaceX to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station and back safely. The aim is to get the “Crew Dragon” astronaut carrier certified for more long-term manned missions into space.  

The Launch

The SpaceX rocket will lift off from the Florida launchpad 39A and two astronauts will be aboard the specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket.  The rocket launch will be the second attempt, as the first attempt was aborted due to a potential lightning strike.

The two astronauts, after docking with the International Space Station, will join the crew on the space station.   NASA news of the SpaceX launch can be followed on the NASA website. After launch, the SpaceX mission will be monitored and controlled from the Johnson Space Centre in Houston Texas.

The Mission

The spacecraft has been built by the SpaceX company owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. The rocket launch today will be the first time that such a mission has been attempted by a privately owned company.  

The journey to space will take around 10 minutes. After about two minutes, the rocket will separate into a first-stage and a second-stage. The first stage will return to a SpaceX landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean whilst the second stage will continue the journey with the Crew Dragon capsule on board.  

The capsule will then separate from the second-stage and travel at 17,000 mph before being in position to rendezvous and dock with the Space Station, 24 hours later.

The Return

On conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, leave the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will then be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.

The Future

Earth from Moon

The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the Space Station.

This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place on board the station. 

Read more about the Artemis program