Science Bytes: SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts docks with space station

SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts docks with space station

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SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts docks with space station

In News: SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts docks with space station

  • US based private space company SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with two NASA astronauts successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) after a historic launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US.

News Summary:

  • With this mission, SpaceX became the first private company to launch people into the orbit, a feat achieved previously by only three governments: the U.S., Russia and China. The event is widely seen as the beginning of a new era in space exploration.
  • The rocket, named Falcon 9, which carried the spaceship into the orbit, was also built by SpaceX.
  • The two astronauts will board the International Space Station (ISS) and become members of the Expedition 63 Crew, and will perform tests on the Crew Dragon and conduct research.
  • The mission is expected to last 30-90 days, following which the two astronauts will depart from the International Space Station by boarding the Crew Dragon.

Highlights global collaboration in space research:

  • The recent take-off also underlines the fact that space research and exploration is now a much more collaborative enterprise than earlier.
  • Space agencies of different countries are not just sharing data and resources, but increasingly getting together to carry out joint missions as well.
  • The International Space Station itself is a good example of international cooperation in the space sector.
  • The current space facility is set to retire somewhere around 2028, but its replacement being planned is likely to have participation from at least ten countries, and possibly private players as well.

Space and Private Sector:

Status of private sector participation in the space domain:

  • The involvement of private industry in the space sector is not new, as world over, more and more work of space agencies is being done in collaboration with private companies. There are hundreds of private entities building commercial satellites for their clients.
  • Launch services are however, still a restricted zone, as it requires elaborate facilities and strong financial capability, but here too, there are several players apart from SpaceX and Boeing.
  • Many, like Virgin Galatic, have already made space flights and hope to start offering passenger rides to space.
  • Last year, a spacecraft built by Scaled Composites, a US company, even took a human being for a very short ride into space, becoming the first private spacecraft to do so.

Private participation in Indian space sector:

  • India also has a decent strength of private companies operating in the space sector. Most of them collaborate with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), in building and fabricating the components that go into making rockets and satellites.
  • Then, there are several companies that have started making satellites for their own use, or for their clients. However, launch services, including the building of rockets or launch vehicles to take the satellites into space, is not taking place in India.
  • While ISRO has been collaborating more and more with private industry, the capability to independently carry out even routine space missions, like the ones that SpaceX or Boeing or Virgin Galactic, have been undertaking frequently now, has been missing in the Indian ecosystem.

About: International Space Station (ISS)

  • The International Space Station (ISS) is a modular space station (habitable artificial satellite) in low Earth orbit (LEO). It is the largest artificial object in space and the largest satellite in low Earth orbit, regularly visible to the naked eye from Earth’s surface.
  • The ISS is a multi-national collaborative project between five participating space agencies viz. NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada).
  • The ownership and use of the space station is established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements.
  • Its main construction was completed between 1998 and 2011 and has been continuously occupied since Nov. 2, 2000.
  • The station is suited for testing the spacecraft systems and equipment required for possible future long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.

Background:

First astronaut launch from US since NASA’s Space Shuttle programme was retired:
  • The launch was also significant as it marked the first instance of American astronauts being launched into orbit from the U.S. soil since 2011.
  • NASA used to have a fleet of five spaceships under its Space Shuttle programme, that were used to make a total of 135 of journeys into space, and the International Space Station (ISS), in the 30 years between 1981 and 2011.
  • After the 2003 accident, in which India-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla was among those killed, the US government had decided to close the Space Shuttle programme.
  • The three remaining spaceships, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour, were formally retired in 2011, even though they were fit for many more flights.
  • Since then, all American astronauts were flown to the International Space Station in Russia’s Soyuz Capsule, for which it had to pay tens of millions of dollars for every trip.
Rationale for America’s private collaboration:
  • America decided that it no longer made sense for NASA to build and operate spaceships, as it was not just costly, but was also consuming a lot of scientific resources.
  • The transportation needs could easily be fulfilled by space vehicles that some private companies were promising to make.
  • Accordingly, it was decided to help and support these companies in building these spaceships that can be hired by other agencies as well, and even private individuals. The NASA collaboration with SpaceX and Boeing was a result of this.
  • The option of collaborating with private operators is not only expected to be cheaper, but it also offers the comfort of operating from home soil and eliminating dependence on a foreign country.
  • The freeing up of scientific resources will also allow NASA to concentrate on deep space exploration, and work actively towards taking humans to moon and Mars.

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