After much delays, NASA has given the green light to Elon Musk-owned SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to launch its first unmanned test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 2, the US space agency said.
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.
This will be the first time a commercially built and operated American rocket and spacecraft designed for humans will launch to the space station, since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, NASA said on Friday.
The test flight will provide valuable data that NASA will review as part of the process to certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system is as safe as possible for carrying astronauts to and from the space station, the space agency said.
“The uncrewed flight tests are a great dry run for not only our hardware, but for our team to get ready for our crewed flight tests,” said Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Programme Manager at NASA.
“NASA has been working together with SpaceX and Boeing to make sure we are ready to conduct these test flights and get ready to learn critical information that will further help us to fly our crews safely. We always learn from tests,” Lueders added.
The US space agency retired its space shuttle programme in 2011 and has relied on Russian vehicles since then to go to the ISS. The agreement with Russia to fly crews on Soyuz will end in 2019.
In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX were awarded a combined $6.8 billion in contracts from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of flying crews to the space station.
Both Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon unmanned missions were earlier scheduled for 2018 launch, but were delayed due to lack of clearance by NASA.
Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is now targeted for launch no earlier than April.
SpaceX crewed mission Demo-2 is now slated for July 2019 and Boeing’s Starliner mission for August 2019.
In August 2018, NASA also revealed the names of nine US astronauts who will fly on the first certification flights for Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon.