SpaceX’s new crew capsule completes space station docking

SpaceX's new crew capsule has arrived at the International Space Station, completing its second milestone in just over a day.

No-one was on board the Dragon capsule that launched on Saturday on its first test flight, only an instrumented dummy.

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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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But the three station astronauts had front-row seats as the sleek, white vessel neatly docked and became the first American-made, designed-for-crew spacecraft to pull up in eight years.

TV cameras on Dragon, as well as the space station, provided stunning views of one another throughout the rendezvous.

If the six-day demonstration goes well, SpaceX could launch two astronauts this summer under Nasa's commercial crew programme.

Both astronauts — Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — were at SpaceX Mission Control in Southern California, observing all the action.

They rushed there from Florida after watching the Dragon rocket into orbit early on Saturday from Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre.

"Just super excited to see it," Mr Behnken said minutes after the link-up. "Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here."

While SpaceX has sent plenty of cargo Dragons to the space station, crew Dragon is a different beast.

It docked autonomously under the station astronauts' watchful eyes, instead of relying on the station's robot arm for berthing.

Mr Behnken said that is the way it should work when he and Mr Hurley are on board; they may push a button or two and will have the ability to intervene, if necessary.

As part of Sunday's shakedown, the station astronauts sent commands for the Dragon to retreat and then move forward again, before the capsule closed in for good.

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SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheered and applauded as crew Dragon pulled up and docked at the orbiting lab, nearly 260 miles above the Pacific, north of New Zealand.

They burst into applause again, several minutes later, when the Dragon's latches were tightly secured.

The station astronauts offered congratulations to SpaceX, as they got ready to open the hatches and collect the supplies stashed aboard Dragon.

The capsule's lone passenger — a mannequin wearing a white SpaceX spacesuit — also was going to be welcomed on board.

The test dummy — or Smarty as SpaceX likes to call it, given all the instrumentation — is named Ripley after the lead character in the science-fiction Alien films.

Dragon will remain at the space station until Friday, when it undocks and aims for a splashdown in the Atlantic, a couple hundred miles off the Florida coast.

Like Ripley, the capsule is rigged with sensors to measure noise, vibration and stresses, and to monitor the life-support, propulsion and other critical systems throughout the flight.

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