NASA and SpaceX Officials has given the green light to Elon Musk-owned SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to fly-launch its ‘first unmanned test flight’ to the International Space Station (ISS), The unmanned SpaceX Demo-1 launch is set for March 2 at 2:48 a.m. U.S. Eastern time from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Further, The 27-foot ling Crew Dragon is scheduled to dock to the ISS at approximately 5:55 a.m. Sunday, March 3. It will carry some cargo, radiation monitors and a full-scale “dummy” to replicate an astronaut.
It will be the first uncrewed flight test of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will provide data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations etc. This will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station-ISS.
SpaceX’s Demo-2 test flight, which will fly NASA astronauts to the space station, is targeted to launch in July 2019.
Significantly, NASA will review performance data to ensure each upcoming mission is as safe as possible. After completion of all test flights, they will continue its review of the systems as well as flight data for certification ahead of the start of regular crewed flights to the ISS, the space agency argued. 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.
Meanwhile, “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,” argued 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,” He added.
William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, said agency officials will follow up with their Russian counterparts about the safeguards that are in place in case of a failure. It will be the first time a commercially built and operated American rocket and spacecraft designed for humans will launch to the ISS, since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011. “It’s a really big deal for SpaceX,” stated Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of the company founded by billionaire Elon Musk.
Following the reports, 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 ISS.
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. Following the Inputs, 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, the agency reported. The agency is planning for both companies to fly astronauts this year but concedes that the schedule for crew flights could slip to 2020.