NASA’s Commercial Crew Program confirmed this week a delay to its planned test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon module. The unmanned Demo-1 test flight, will see the astronaut-adapted cargo module fire off into space. NASA, in partnership with SpaceX and Boeing, aims to drop its dependency on Russian Soyuz rockets for sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The US space agency is now targeting March 2 for the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and “no earlier than April” for Boeing’s unmanned flight test.
NASA then hopes to have its first astronauts enter orbit around Earth by the end of July this year.
NASA said in a statement: “These adjustments allow for completion of necessary hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of flight controllers and mission managers.
“The uncrewed test flights will be the first time commercially-built and operated American spacecraft designed for humans will dock the space station.
“The first flights are dress rehearsals for missions with astronauts aboard the vehicles.
“Commercial crew has continued working toward these historic missions throughout the month of January.”
The Crew Dragon will blast off towards the ISS for two weeks in a bid to prove its reliability and safety in carrying astronauts into space.
If successful, SpaceX will secure the first step towards maintaining a direct mode of transport between US soil and the ISS.
Aeroplane manufacturer Boeing will conduct a similar test run of its own spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, on an unspecified date in April.
Earlier in January, SpaceX completed the first static fire test of its iconic Falcon 9 rocket with the mounted Crew Dragon module at the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager, said: “There still are many critical steps to complete before launch and while we eagerly are anticipating these launches, we will step through our test flight preparations and readiness reviews.
“We are excited about seeing the hardware we have followed through development, integration, and ground testing move into flight.”
NASA announced in August last year the names of the first four astronauts who will fly the Crew Dragon module in 2019.
The honour was awarded to NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.
Mr Behnken and Mr Hurley will be the first two pilots to fly the SpaceX module into orbit.
The remaining two astronauts will then fly the Dragon on its first manned mission to the ISS.
In order to meet NASA’s requirements, both SpaceX and Boeing must demonstrate an ability to safely and efficiently transport crews into space.
NASA outline of planned test flights and launch demos:
SpaceX Demo-1 – Unscrewed – March 2, 2019
Boeing Orbital Flight Test – Unscrewed – April 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test – May 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test – June 2019
SpaceX Demo-2 – Crewed – July 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test – Crewed – August 2019
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