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    Success of SpaceX's Crew Dragon mission heralds new era in space

    By Xu Luyuan | China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-11 07:13
    A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifts off on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, March 2, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

    ON FRIDAY, the capsule of Crew Dragon, a spacecraft designed by SpaceX for manned space flight, successfully splashed down in the Atlantic after finishing its debut unmanned test flight. Xu Luyuan, a postdoctoral researcher of planetary geology at Macao University of Science and Technology, comments:

    Many hail the success of the mission as giant progress for SpaceX, but it also marks a big step forward for human space exploration. Compared with the past manned space flights, Crew Dragon has made progress in several aspects.

    In terms of safety, the recognized standard for space shuttles is that the loss of astronauts should be fewer than one person every 90 flights. The US space shuttles lost 14 in their 135 flights. The SpaceX spacecraft is widely expected by experts to meet that standard. For that purpose, it successfully tested its escape capsule as early as 2015, then completed thousands of hours of escape tests before making its maiden flight this month.

    In order to lower the cost of space travel, SpaceX has made certain expensive parts of the spacecraft reusable, such as the launch rocket, as well as using eight recyclable escape engines that aims at ensuring astronauts safety. It even saved the fairing, an indispensable part of traditional rockets that costs about $5 million. With lower costs, more astronauts will hopefully get the chance of entering low Earth orbit.

    Besides, it can carry as many as seven astronauts. As a comparison, Orion, NASA's proposed new-generation spaceship, can carry a maximum of six astronauts. The more astronauts one spaceship carries, the lower the cost for each of them.

    All these make its cost per flight as low as $160 million, about 10 percent of that of space shuttles. However, besides the low cost, it also has applied many new technologies that grant it incomparable advantages. Its eight escape engines use 3D printing technology, it carries foldable solar panels on its surface instead of installing them like wings, while it can accurately dock with space stations without the help of robotic arms. It is fair to say Crew Dragon marks a new period in manned space flight and let's hope China will improve its technologies and get similar products in the near future.

      
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