Dragon is approaching the space station - UPDATED: CAPTURED!

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May 25 2012 7:13 AM

Dragon is approaching the space station - UPDATED: CAPTURED!

[UPDATE: ISS has captured the Dragon!

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!  

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That's not a sim! That's the Dragon capsule held by the ISS robot arm, 30 minutes after capture. See the notes below.]



The SpaceX Dragon capsule is currently on approach to the International Space Station. As I write this (13:00 UTC) it is about 50 meters away and moving in. NASA has a live feed that I am embedding here:


You may need to refresh this page to see it.

Dragon had approached to 30 meters, but a glitch made NASA ask for it to back off to 70 meters. Dragon uses a laser ranging device called LIDAR to determine its position and velocity relative to ISS. It was getting a stray reflection from a structure on ISS that was giving it bad data. The problem was quickly fixed by narrowing he LIDAR's field of view, excluding the stray reflection. Clever.

Dragon and ISS need to be in daylight for the astronauts to be able to grapple the capsule with the robot arm. That time is currently scheduled for 14:40 UTC (10:40 a.m. Eastern US time).

I will update this post as new info comes in.


[UPDATE 1 (13:22 UTC): Here's a frame grab of the Dragon as it holds 30 meters from ISS. The shadow of one of the station's solar panels is across the capsule. Lovely!]


[UPDATE 2 13:30 UTC): Another pretty shot of the Dragon capsule, this time with part of the station as well. This is a screen grab of the live NASA video stream from 14:30 UTC. Dragon is moving from 30 meters to 10 meters from ISS, where it will once again hold. At that distance, the robot arm will be able to grapple the capsule. It should reach that point around 13:55 UTC.]


[UPDATE 3 (14:38 UTC): NASA expects Dragon will reach 10 meter hold position at 13:45. The first opportunity to grapple it with the robot arm is at 14:02 UTC, which is when the pair will be in the dark. A second opportunity is at 14:28 when they are in daylight once again.]

[UPDATE 4 (13:50 UTC): We are GO for capture! Dragon is 10 meters from ISS, and they will use the robot arm in a few minutes to grapple the capsule. This shot grabbed from the live feed shows Dragon as it holds position off the ISS.]


[UPDATE 5 (13:58 UTC): CAPTURE! At 13:56 UTC history was made as the Canadian robot arm of the International Space Space grappled the SpaceX Dragon capsule, making it the first privately-owned commercial spacecraft to connect with ISS. Congrats to NASA and SpaceX for this wonderful moment. Next step: bring it in and mate it to the docking berth on the Harmony node of ISS.]