NASA, SpaceX aim for March test of 1st new astronaut capsule

Mindy Sparks
February 8, 2019

When those first manned missions actually launch, it'll be the first time that astronauts have launched from the United States since 2011. The first Starliner flight with astronauts would be August at best.

In early January, NASA said that the first unmanned launch of the SpaceX-designed Dragon 2 to the ISS was planned for February.

NASA and SpaceX are now aiming for a March debut of the first capsule from a private company created to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. This is the third month in a row that NASA has announced a further delay for the first major test flight of Crew Dragon.

The Crew Dragon and Starliner spacecraft are the centerpieces of NASA's drive to resume launching USA astronauts aboard US rockets from US soil, ending the agency's sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry crew members to and from the International Space Station.

SpaceX had been targeting February 23 for Crew Dragon's shakeout cruise to the ISS, an uncrewed flight called Demo-1. The unpiloted capsule will execute an autonomous rendezvous with the space station, moving in for docking the day after launch.

In order to meet NASA's requirements, both SpaceX and Boeing must demonstrate an ability to safely and efficiently transport crews into space. Recovery crews will haul the craft to shore for detailed post-flight examination.

Wednesday's announcement fell on the one-year anniversary of SpaceX's debut of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which shot chief executive Elon Musk's red Tesla convertible into space with a mannequin, dubbed Starman, at the wheel. "It is March 2", the source said.

Whenever they take off, Behnken and Hurley plan to stay aboard the station for about a week before returning to Earth with another Atlantic Ocean splashdown. Boeing will run a pad abort test no earlier than May 2019 now, while SpaceX will perform an in-flight abort test in June.

While the schedule for the crewed test flights are little changed from previous schedules, there's an expectation in the industry that those dates, too, will slip depending on when the uncrewed test flights take place and their outcomes. Unlike the Crew Dragon, the Starliner is created to land in the western United States using parachutes and airbags.

Boeing, meanwhile, is shooting for an April launch of its first Starliner capsule without a crew.

NASA also hopes to send astronauts into space using capsules made by Boeing.

If all goes well, operational crew rotation flights could begin well before the end of the year.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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