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SpaceX set for historic Crew Dragon test flight

By
Brooks Hays
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen as it is rolled out of the horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-1 mission on Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Joel Kowsky/NASA
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen as it is rolled out of the horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-1 mission on Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Joel Kowsky/NASA | License Photo

March 1 (UPI) -- SpaceX is ready for Saturday's inaugural test flight of the Crew Dragon, the next step in a mission to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 2:49 a.m. ET Saturday.

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According to the latest update from the meteorologists at the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing, there is an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for Saturday morning's launch window.

On Wednesday night, program officials announced a successful initial safety check and confirmed the timing of the historic test flight.

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"Our Demo-1 launch readiness review is complete, and we are still 'go' for launch," the commercial crew program announced on Twitter.

The uncrewed flight, or Demo-1 mission, will provide SpaceX an opportunity the demonstrate the reliability of its rocket launch system and the safety of its crew module.

"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," Kathy Lueders, manager of the commercial crew program, said in a news release. "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."

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NASA contracted SpaceX and Boeing to build spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Because both companies are behind schedule, there is added pressure for a flawless test flight.

At the beginning of last year, NASA announced SpaceX and Boeing would complete test flights for their commercial crew spacecraft, Crew Dragon and Starliner, in August.

NASA said then the first Crew Dragon test flight would happen in November, with Starliner's maiden voyage happening in late 2018 or early 2019.

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Summer and fall came and went with neither spacecraft leaving the ground.

Spacecraft building and launch delays are common but any more setbacks and NASA might find itself without a way to get its astronauts to the ISS and back.

Crew Dragon and Starliner were commissioned to replace the Space Shuttle, which was retired in 2011. NASA and its astronauts rely on Russian rockets and crew capsules to get to and from the ISS -- an agreement with Roscosmos that ends in early 2020.

"We believe it's a national imperative to return the flight of American astronauts on American rockets on American soil," NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs told The Atlantic earlier this year.

Though uncrewed, Saturday's Demo-1 test flight will feature a single spacesuit-wearing astronaut dummy. The weighted dummy will help engineers replicate the conditions of a crewed flight and measure the physical experience of the ride aboard the Crew Dragon.

"We'll measure the responses on the human body, obviously, and measure the environment. We want to make sure that everything is perfect for the safety of the astronauts," Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, told reporters last week.

After launching and separating from the rocket, Crew Dragon will travel to the space station, where it will dock and remain for five days. During the flight, engineers will test a variety of systems and components: the module's environmental control systems, solar arrays, electrical power systems, communication systems, propulsion systems and more.

After five days at its docking port, the module will be released. Next week, the craft will de-orbit and splash down into the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast, where it will be promptly retrieved by SpaceX.

The launch, docking and return will all be streamed live on NASA TV.

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