SpaceX Crew Dragon Test Flight Approved For Launch By NASA
NASA has officially given SpaceX the go-ahead to test their new Crew Dragon passenger spacecraft on March 2nd.
This will be the first test flight of the new commercial crew vehicles which will bring space travel back to the United States ever since the shuttle was cancelled.
The flight on March 2nd will be uncrewed and will provide essential data to not only SpaceX but also NASA about how this future spaceship will work and what the crew can expect in future flights.
The flight is currently scheduled to take off on March 2nd in the early morning to align with the passing International Space Station. After launch, the Crew Dragon will autonomously dock with the ISS and stay attached for a week. After a week of testing by the crew of the ISS and NASA, the ship will detach from the station and autonomously land back in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida.
If the March 2nd launch date doesn't work out due to weather the launch could happen on the 5th, 8th, or 9th. If after the 9th the rocket still hasn't launched the mission will have to be held back as a Russian Soyuz launch will take precedence over the testing.
After this first test flight is complete SpaceX and NASA will launch another Crew Dragon in April, but this time it won't be headed to the ISS. Instead, the rocket will test the onboard crew abort system. During the flight the rocket will liftoff as usual, then during flight, the Crew Dragon will activate its emergency crew abort system firing its onboard thrusters and detaching from the main Falcon 9 rocket booster. After the detachment, the Crew Dragon will deploy its parachutes and land in the Atlantic Ocean. This is a crucial component that needs to be adequately tested before a crewed flight can take place. Just last year the Soyuz encounter a significant problem and the crew had to initiate an emergency abort. The system worked as planned and saved the crew's lives.
After all these tests go well, SpaceX and NASA should be ready to launch their first crew into space sometime towards the end of 2019.
Not to be overlooked here is SpaceX is not the only company working on a commercial crew rocket. Boing is currently building and developing their Dreamliner capsule which will begin testing in April. Similar to the Crew Dragon the Dreamliner will have to go through rigorous testing before a crew takes flight aboard it.
Overall 2019 will be an exciting year for space travel and could be the year we see the first crew transported to the international space station by a private company possibly ushering in a whole new boom in the space race.