SpaceX hopes to conduct by year’s end.
On Thursday, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said that SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon astronaut capsule will begin with its first manned flight into orbit in the first quarter of next year provided “everything goes according to plan” in upcoming tests.
NASA believes SpaceX is getting the Crew Dragon project back on track after an explosion during a ground test in April and technical challenges with its re-entry parachute system. Bridenstine said successful development of the capsule was key to achieving NASA’s top priority – the resumed “launching of American astronauts on American rockets from American soil” for the first time since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.
Previously, NASA and SpaceX had aimed to launch the Crew Dragon on an initial test flight carrying two astronauts to the International Space Station in 2019. Bridenstine said that the revised timeline hinges on a series of system tests that SpaceX hopes to conduct by year’s end. These include a high-altitude test of an in-flight abort system designed to propel the crew capsule to safety in the event of a rocket failure on the way to orbit.
When asked how soon he the capsule would be ready to fly astronauts into orbit, Bridenstine stated, “If everything goes according to plan, it would be the first quarter of next year.” Bridenstine also praised SpaceX for its “fail fast, then fix” approach to spacecraft development, an ethos he stated that differed from the cultures of other NASA contractors.
So far, SpaceX has never flown humans into orbit, only cargo. But in March, the company successfully launched an unpiloted Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. Overcoming problems with re-entry parachutes had proved especially challenging, Musk stated.
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