Launch of the Crew Dragon capsule by the Falcon 9 launcher, January 19, 2020. - Kennedy Space Center
- On Sunday, SpaceX successfully simulated the emergency ejection of astronauts from a rocket, moments after its launch in Florida.
- Consequence of this success: the next flight of the SpaceX capsule, Crew Dragon, will be made this year with astronauts on board.
- A turning point for the American space industry, which has not flown its own astronauts since 2011.
It was the last safety test before a first manned flight. On Sunday, SpaceX successfully ejected an empty capsule a few seconds after the launch of its rocket, under the cheers of the teams of ground engineers. The Crew Dragon capsule landed on the ground eight minutes later, as expected. “As far as we can tell, it's a perfect mission. It went as well as expected, "said Elon Musk, eccentric billionaire and boss of SpaceX, after the test. By fulfilling this instruction imposed by NASA, will the company enter the big leagues?
"We witnessed a crucial test for the safety of astronauts, one of the last before launching a Commercial Crew team on a manned flight," comments Olivier Sanguy, scientific mediator at the Cité de l'Espace in Toulouse. It reassures the whole world by showing that the program is progressing, ”he continues. A few years ago, NASA decided to abandon its shuttle program to entrust the transportation of astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) to the private sector. The term “private sector” means first of all Russia and its Soyuz capsule. But she is also a “client” of two companies she has selected: SpaceX and Boeing, who must make proposals to her. So much so that the two companies have embarked on the space race.
"The great era of space travel"
For SpaceX, created in 2002, the stakes are high. The company, relatively young in front of the behemoths of the sector, will pass to "the age of maturity if it succeeds in the first manned flight", planned in the second quarter of 2020 by Nasa, confirms Arthur Sauzay, expert on space issues at Institut Montaigne and lawyer in the Parisian office of Allen & Overy. This flight will have as passengers American astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who have been training for years, while since 2012, SpaceX supplies the ISS only with equipment and supplies.
"Even if we have to keep a cool head, we are at a turning point towards a new great era of space travel," continues the specialist. SpaceX has given a kind of madness to the space adventure: the company says "let's dream big, let's take all the risks". Elon Musk is a dream, he leaves no one indifferent. It stimulates, it irritates, but it moves the lines. "
Objective stated: to give the United States the freedom to send their own astronauts to the ISS. "Since 2011, no American has gone into space in an American craft," confirms Olivier Sanguy. A challenge in terms of image, but also economic: NASA spends around $ 85 million for each astronaut seat it sends via Russia. A heavy price ... paid by taxpayers. "SpaceX is 50-60 million dollars when they launch a rocket," explains Arthur Sauzay.
One million humans on Mars
Faced with Boeing or Chinese companies that are developing, SpaceX knows that it must keep cost reduction in mind. Its great innovation is its automatic launcher, the only one in the world to be reusable. “The main contribution of SpaceX is the return of the first stage of its Falcon 9 launcher. It is still a 50-meter-high craft. During the Sunday test, the one who served flew for the 4th time. SpaceX wants to fly them up to 10 times, ”explains Olivier Sanguy. SpaceX, Boeing and others "want to be cheaper and more systematic, to open up space to as many people as possible," comments Arthur Sauzay. Especially since the company has not signed an exclusivity contract with NASA and can offer commercial flights, like that of the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, planned in 2023 around the Moon.
How does Elon Musk plan to colonize Mars? #ElonMusk #SpaceX https://t.co/PfJacd0YU7- Lemon squeezer (@pressecitron) January 18, 2020
And why not aim even further? "The company's official slogan is" making humans a multiplanetary species "", recalls Arthur Sauzay. Elon Musk further explained, last Friday on Twitter, how he intends to send a million humans to Mars by 2050. And the expert on space issues to conclude: "SpaceX has been Mars from the start".
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