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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Spaceship carrying four astronauts, due for historic launch on Saturday; certified by NASA

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Spaceship is due for its historic lift-off on November 15, 2020, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral, at 5:49 AM IST.

The launch that is all set to be live-streamed is nothing short of the Star- Trek series.

The Spaceship carrying four astronauts – Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Sochi Noguchi, will be the first human-rated commercial spacecraft launch.

Just days before the launch, The National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) has certified SpaceX to fly its astronauts on its Crew Dragon spacecraft calked Crew-1 on November 15.

Reviewing Space’s Falcon 9 rocket for two days, the review included all mission operations and software. NASA officials decided to certify the first human-rated commercial spacecraft.

The launch which will be live-streamed by NASA and SpaceX at 5:49 AM IST on November 15. If all goes as planned, the spacecraft carrying four astronauts will dock at the International Space Station eight and a half hours later.

The four astronauts are scheduled to stay at the International Space Station for six months. They will board the spacecraft again for the return journey and go through the Earth’s atmosphere, making a fiery return to land someplace in the Atlantic Ocean after opening up the parachutes. This will commemorate the longest human spaceflight in the history of the United States.

The lead flight director for the mission, NASA’s Anthony Vareha, explained why this mission holds so much importance as he said, “It’s exciting, especially with Crew-1 being the first time we’ve ever put four people on a space capsule ever, as humans, like that’s pretty cool… It’s also the longest mission of a crewed US capsule ever.”

Kathy Lloyders, head of NASA’s manned space flight program, in a press briefing on November 10 said, “People think it’s just a spacecraft, but it’s a spacecraft, it’s a launch vehicle, it’s processing all over the land, that’s how you do your mission. All of this will allow our crew to safely fly to the International Space Station and come back and then recover, you’ve shown us the data, and we trust you to do it. That’s a big confidence factor here.”

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. Elon Musk established it in the year 2002 to reduce space transportation costs and to allow the colonization of Mars.

SpaceX has developed several launch vehicles, the Starlink satellite constellation, the Dragon cargo spacecraft, and also flown humans to the International Space Station on the Crew Dragon Demo-2.

However, this will not be SpaceX’s first human mission. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley achieved a similar feat in 2019 when they boarded the Crew Dragon and docked at the International Space Station for two months. Then took off to Earth, landing in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida Coast with the help of four parachutes.

The NASA certification also holds importance. It is the first time they have allowed a human-flight system in nearly 40 years since the beginning of the Space Shuttle Program. This will also be the first of six round-trip missions for which Elon Musk’s SpaceX has contracted with NASA.

Mars Oasis – Conceptualizing a colony on Mars.

In 2001, Elon Musk conceptualized Mars Oasis, a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse and grow plants on Mars. He had announced that “This would be the furthest that life’s ever travelled.”

The story is fascinating – when Musk tried to purchase cheap rockets from Russia but failed to find a rocket for an affordable price and thus returned empty-handed.

On the flight home, Musk discerned that he could start a company that could build the affordable rockets he needed.

According to early Tesla and SpaceX investor Steve Jurvetson, Musk estimated that the raw materials for building a rocket were only three percent of the sales price of a rocket at the time.

By employing vertical integration, producing around 85% of launch hardware in-house, and the modular approach of modern software engineering, Musk concluded SpaceX could cut launch price by a factor of ten and still enjoy a 70% gross margin.

SpaceX and its Growth

In early 2002, Musk was looking for a team for his novel space company, to be named SpaceX.

Musk asked rocket engineer Tom Mueller (later SpaceX’s CTO of propulsion). Mueller agreed to work for Musk, and thus SpaceX was born.

First headquartered in a warehouse in El Segundo, California, SpaceX grew rapidly, starting with 160 employees in November 2005 to 1100 employees in 2010.

It grew exponentially and has 8,000 employees as of May 2020,

At the International Astronautical Congress in 2016, Musk, in his speech, explained that the US government regulates rocket technology as an “advanced weapon technology,” making it challenging to hire non-Americans.

Launches and Revenue

By March 2018, SpaceX had over 100 launches on its manifest, drawing about US$12 billion in contract revenue.

The contracts included both commercial and government (NASA/DOD) customers.

Competitors and the future of space exploration

Space industry media in 2013 had said that SpaceX had increased the competitiveness in the space rocket launch industry.

Its main competitors in the commercial comsat launch market being Arianespace, United Launch Alliance (ULA), and International Launch Services (ILS).

Simultaneously, in a statement, Musk said that the increased competition would “be a good thing for the future of space.”

Currently, SpaceX is the leading global commercial launch provider measured by manifested launches.

The first crew launch from American soil in 9 years and battling Covid -19

On May 30, 2020, SpaceX successfully launched two NASA astronauts (Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken) into orbit on a Crew Dragon spacecraft during Crew Dragon Demo-2.

Thus, SpaceX was the first private company to send astronauts to the International Space Station and marked the first crewed launch from American soil in 9 years.

The mission was launched from the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Crew Dragon Demo-2 successfully docked with the International Space Station on May 31, 2020.

However, since the COVID-19 pandemic was happening simultaneously, proper quarantine procedures (many of which were already in use by NASA decades before the 2020 pandemic) were taken to prevent the astronauts from bringing COVID-19 aboard the ISS.

Musk In a press release said, “Thanks to NASA for its continued support of SpaceX and its partnership in achieving this goal, I can’t be more proud of each and every one of our SpaceX suppliers who worked incredibly hard to develop, test, and fly the first commercial manned space system in history to be certified by NASA. It is a great honor to be inspired by faith. Our efforts will help humanity return to the moon, travel to Mars, and eventually become a multi-planet.”

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