Private space company SpaceX has published a new online simulator that lets anyone attempt to dock its Crew Dragon with the International Space Station. The simulator features on-screen controls and can be used in an ordinary web browser, one that features digital versions of the space environment, the ISS, and SpaceX’s crewed spacecraft. Spoiler alert: docking is harder than it looks.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon is a spacecraft that builds upon the company’s Dragon 1 cargo ship. The Crew Dragon spacecraft, as its name suggests, was designed to shuttle humans to the International Space Station and back again, making it possible for NASA to launch its astronauts from American soil.
The Crew Dragon is designed to automatically dock with the ISS, meaning that if everything goes as planned, the humans on board will not be required to do any work when the spacecraft arrives at the space station. However, if something does interfere, the Crew Dragon also features manual controls that the operators will need to use to guide the spacecraft to the ISS dock.
SpaceX recently shared a video on Twitter that shows someone in a spacesuit practicing this manual docking task using a simulator. That same simulator — or one like it, at least — has also been published on the SpaceX website, allowing anyone to give it their best shot. The simulator involves controls for moving up and down, left and right, as well as forward and backward.
A green indicator highlights the ISS dock, but actually getting the simulated Crew Dragon to it is trickier than it looks. The spacecraft is prone to drifting when moved in any direction and it doesn’t immediately respond to new movements, making it necessary to anticipate how much the spacecraft will drift as it moves close to the docking point.