SpaceX launched another group of astronauts for NASA early Friday morning. Elon Musk’s company has now sent 10 astronauts into space in less than a year.
The Crew 2 mission, the company’s second and so far third launch for NASA’s operational crew, successfully entered orbit after launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:49 a.m.CET. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket brought the four astronauts into space in the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship called “Endeavor”.
The launch marked several new novelties for SpaceX, with the company reusing both a rocket and capsule for the mission, surpassing the total number of astronauts launched into space under the Mercury program, which began in 1958.
“It was just spectacular,” said acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk after the start of the Crew 2 mission. “Our partnership with SpaceX has been enormous.”
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet is now on its way to the International Space Station. The mission is scheduled to dock with the ISS approximately 24 hours after takeoff around 5:10 a.m. EDT on Saturday.
“We’re just happy to be back in space and we’ll send our regards to Crew-1 when we get there,” said Kimbrough, speaking from the spaceship after takeoff.
The Crew 2 team will conduct a full-time mission on the ISS and spend approximately six months on board. The four astronauts will join the Crew 1 astronauts who launched in November before the latter team’s Crew Dragon capsule ‘Resilience’ undocks and returns to Earth.
After launch, SpaceX also landed the booster of its Falcon 9 rocket, the large lower part of the rocket. This Falcon 9 rocket booster previously launched the Crew 1 mission in November, and SpaceX plans to continue using it for future missions.
SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon spacecraft and optimized its Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which provided the company with $ 3.1 billion to develop the system and launch six operational missions.
Commercial Crew is a competitive program as NASA has also placed $ 4.8 billion in contracts with Boeing to develop its Starliner spacecraft. However, this competing capsule is in development due to an unmanned flight test in December 2019 that posed significant challenges.
Crew-2 is the second of these six missions for SpaceX. NASA is now benefiting from the investments it has made in developing the company’s spacecraft.
NASA emphasizes that SpaceX not only gives the agency the ability to send astronauts into space, it also offers a cost-saving option. The agency estimates $ 55 million per astronaut for the Crew Dragon flight, as opposed to $ 86 million per astronaut for the Russian flight. NASA estimated last year that the competition between two private companies for contracts with the agency saved development costs of between $ 20 billion and $ 30 billion.