Elon Musk's private company, SpaceX, made its second manned flight to the space station this Sunday.
This is SpaceX's first "operational" flight, after the successful demonstration carried out from May to August. On Sunday, November 15, three American astronauts and a Japanese took off from the Kennedy Space Center, in the United States, to join the International Space Station (ISS), thanks to a SpaceX rocket, Falcon 9. The takeoff went smoothly, at the scheduled time.
The first stage quickly detached before returning to land on a drone ship, SpaceX's trademark. Twelve minutes after takeoff, at an altitude of 200 kilometers and a speed of 27,000 km / h, the capsule itself detached from the second stage. SpaceX confirmed it was on the right orbit to join the ISS just over 27 hours later, around 4 a.m. GMT on Tuesday.
"A great day for the United States"
The four astronauts will meet there two Russians and an American, and will stay there six months, spinning around the Earth at 400 kilometers above the oceans. SpaceX briefly broadcast live images from inside the device showing the astronauts in their seats, something neither the Russians nor the Americans did before. A problem with the interior climate control system occurred, but was quickly fixed, according to SpaceX.
"It's a big day for the United States of America and for Japan," NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said at a press conference. The rocket "operates as it should," SpaceX number two Gwynne Shotwell confirmed at a press conference. But "we will breathe a sigh of relief in about 26 hours, when we hand the crew over to NASA."
“NASA was a disaster when we took matters into our own hands. Today, it is by far the most popular and advanced space center in the world! President Donald Trump tweeted. The man who will replace him in January, Joe Biden, also praised NASA and SpaceX with a tweet. "It is proof of the power of science and of what we can accomplish by combining innovation, inventiveness and determination," tweeted the Democratic President-elect.
It took the Americans nine years to certify the successor to the Shuttles. A second aircraft, Starliner, manufactured by Boeing, is behind schedule and could be operational in a year. NASA hopes to continue cooperation with Russia. She has offered spaces for cosmonauts on future missions, and wants Americans to continue to borrow Soyuz regularly.
Washington-Moscow ties are weakening
But the negotiations are dragging on. "We want an exchange of seats," Jim Bridenstine said at a press conference Friday. “Discussions are ongoing,” he simply said. The reality is that the ties between Washington and Moscow in the space domain, one of the few where they remained good, are weakening. Breaking with more than 20 years of cooperation on the ISS, Russia will not participate in the next mini-station wanted by NASA around the Moon, the Gateway.
Roskosmos boss Dmitry Rogozin has made SpaceX his pet peeve. Besides becoming NASA's carrier of choice, the company is a market leader in private satellite launches, and it has forced Russia to review its aging space program. This summer, Roskosmos announced a project for a new reusable rocket, “not semi-reusable like at SpaceX,” said Dmitri Rogozine. “Our engineers […] don't want to repeat what their SpaceX colleagues are doing, but surpass them. "