SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft blasts off into space

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft took off on Saturday morning, marking the first major step towards US ambitions to resume sending astronauts into space on its own spacecraft on American soil.

The uncrewed spacecraft launched from Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 2.49am local time (7.49am UK time) as planned, on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a dummy pilot called Ripley – a nod to Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien movies – loaded with sensors to feed back information on the journey's progress.

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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon crew capsule launch
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon crew capsule launch
Un cohete Falcon 9 de SpaceX con una cápsula de pasajeros Demo 1 despega el sábado 2 de marzo del 2019 en Cabo Cañaveral, Florida. (AP Foto/Terry Renna)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a demo Crew Dragon spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a demo Crew Dragon spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a demo Crew Dragon spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a demo Crew Dragon spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, speaks during a news conference after the SpaceX Falcon 9 Demo-1 launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
NASA astronaut Eric Boe, assistant to the chief of the astronaut office for commercial crew, left, and Norm Knight, deputy director of flight operations at NASA's Johnson Space Center watch the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft on the Demo-1 mission from firing room four of the Launch Control Center, Saturday, March 2, 2019 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. America's newest capsule for astronauts rocketed Saturday toward the International Space Station on a high-stakes test flight by SpaceX. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
SpaceX chief Elon Musk speaks during a press conference after the launch of SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo mission at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 2, 2019. - NASA and SpaceX celebrated the successful launch March 2 of a new astronaut capsule on a week-long round trip to the International Space Station -- a key step towards resuming manned space flights from US soil after an eight-year break. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard takes off during the Demo-1 mission, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 2, 2019. - SpaceX's new Crew Dragon astronaut capsule was on its way to the International Space Station Saturday, March 2, 2019, after it successfully launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket. With only a dummy named Ripley on board, the launch was a dress rehearsal for the first manned test flight -- scheduled for later this year with two NASA astronauts. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen seconds after taking off during the Demo-1 mission, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 2, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard takes off during the Demo-1 mission, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 2, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
March 2, 2019; Kennedy Space Center, FL, USA; A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center early Saturday, March 2, 2019. This is the first launch of the rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule that was designed to carry humans into space. Mandatory Credit: Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY via USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA
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The launch will provide vital data to SpaceX and Nasa that will determine whether the spacecraft is ready to carry passengers.

The American space agency ended its own Space Shuttle in 2011, opting for a new Commercial Crew Programme working with Elon Musk's SpaceX and Boeing.

Since then, it has relied on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to blast astronauts into space, which costs 81 million dollars a seat (£61 million).

Crew Dragon's lift off has been hit by several delays along the way, previously scheduled for January 7, before moving to January 17 and then pushing it back again to no earlier than February.

"This is really a significant achievement in the history of American space flight," said Jim Bridenstine, Nasa administrator.

"We want to make sure we keep our partnership with Russia, which has been very strong for a long period of time, going back to the Apollo Soyuz era, but we also want to make sure we have our own capability to get back and forth to the ISS, so that we can have this strong partnership where they can launch on our rockets and we can launch on their rockets.

"But I think another big milestone here is the idea that we're not as an agency, as Nasa, we're not purchasing, owning and operating our own rockets at this point, we're looking to a future where we can be a customer, one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace in lower Earth orbit."

SpaceX
(PA Graphics)

The crew capsule is expected to reach the ISS (International Space Station) at 6.05am (11.05am UK time) on Sunday, delivering around 400 pounds of cargo and staying for around five days before returning to Earth.

A trial carrying passengers for the first time could happen as soon as July, with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley lined up to take the ride.

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