NASA greenlights SpaceX crew capsule test to ISS

Christopher Davidson
February 26, 2019

The Falcon 9, lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, will put the Crew Dragon into orbit. The long-awaited mission is a critical milestone in NASA's $6.8 billion Commercial Crew Program, meant to end the agency's sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry USA and partner astronauts to and from the station in the wake of the space shuttle's retirement eight years ago. Even after the launch in March, SpaceX must complete the unmanned flight test before it can launch the Crew Dragon with a crew in tow.

That mission, Demo-2, is scheduled for no earlier than July, a schedule that will depend on what work will be needed to respond to issues discovered during the Demo-1 test. The capsule, designed for crew, will have no one aboard except a SpaceX dummy. "We need to make sure that [Dragon] can safely go rendezvous and dock with the space station, and undock safely, and not pose a hazard to the International Space Station", said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, during a news conference.

The flight, called Demonstration Mission-1 or DM-1, will be launched at 2.48 a.m. on March 2 from NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Koenigsmann said he didn't know the name of the mannequin.

Assuming no major problems develop - and assuming an in-flight abort test goes well this spring - astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley hope to blast off in a Crew Dragon this summer to kick off the first launch of USA astronauts aboard an American-made rocket from US soil since the shuttle program ended in July 2011. Although Lueders and the other NASA officials are comfortable with the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for this test flight, there are still some issues they want to close out before astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launch into space on an identical rocket and capsule. SpaceX recovery crews stationed nearby will pull the capsule onto a ship and haul it back to Port Canaveral for detailed post-flight inspections.

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The SpaceX Demo-1 launch is one of the final steps before Crew Dragon can carry NASA astronauts to space.

The final now contracted U.S. Soyuz flight is scheduled for launch in July.

Nasa awarded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co. a combined US$6.8 billion in September 2014 to revive the US's ability to fly to the space station without buying seats on Russian capsules.

NASA has allocated SpaceX $2.6 billion, and rival Boeing about $4 billion for the establishment of a separate system of rockets and capsules for the delivery of American astronauts to the ISS.

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