15 years ago, there was only one big player when it came to US space travel, NASA. Fast forward to 2020 and there are many private companies making a name for themselves in the space industry. One of the most well known is Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Originally founded in 2002, SpaceX was created to help modernise space travel. Nearly 20 years on and it is doing just that and has become hugely influential when it comes to the future of space travel.
Since 2008 SpaceX has launched cargo into space with the use of new and improved technology and rockets. They successfully won a contract with NASA to fly astronauts into space, with the most recent launch being May 30th 2020 when 2 American astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley boarded SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Dragon spacecraft and headed for the International Space Station.
The Crew Dragon was used in the May 30th launch, a landmark launch due to the fact it was the first time two American astronauts had left earth’s soil for the ISS in a decade, it was also the first time ever a privately owned company has sent people into space.
A reusable rocket?
That’s right, when Elon Musk first announced SpaceX his goal was to make space travel more affordable and efficient. His idea was a reusable rocket, the Falcon 9. The technology used to create and reuse the Falcon 9 and other SpaceX models includes more than just rocket boosters, which allow the reuse of rockets (which are pretty cool in themselves). SpaceX’s long term goal is to develop the technology to allow the orbital vehicle to be reused in a matter of hours after touchdown back to earth.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon boasts a certain piece of technology vastly different to anything most pilots have used in their career previously, an interactive touch screen for the controls, which dominates most of the interface in the vehicle. The outcome is a futuristic, autonomous, Star Trek-esque example of how space travel will look going forward.
In order to smoothly transition from the manual controls that astronauts are used to, SpaceX worked with astronauts on the touchscreen interface to make sure it is as close as possible to what they need and are used to. Taking into account placement, screen sensitivity, and other ergonomics to ensure the finished product provided the optimum performance.
The Crew Dragon is an autonomous vehicle. It is designed to automatically dock with the space station without any input from the astronauts. There is a manual option for astronauts to override the autonomous system if needs be through use of the controls on the touchscreen. On the recent test mission to the ISS, the crew on board the Crew Dragon manually used the touchscreen on approach to the space station to see how it worked, however they quickly handed over automation to the Crew Dragon.
SpaceX is broadening our horizons when it comes to space travel, not only are they making space travel more economical and inexpensive, they are also pushing the boundaries when it comes to technology. The tech used to build these rockets is as futuristic as it gets and it’s only going to get better. The company is also working on another rocket called Starship, which they hope will ultimately take humans to other destinations than the ISS. The hope is to take us to Mars. Although the Starship isn’t ready yet, the successful launch of the Crew Dragon in May shows strong promise that it won’t be too far away!