SpaceX targets March launch
After delays, date set for demo of astronaut capsule
The test flights for NASA’s highly anticipated Commercial Crew Program to return astronauts to space from U.S. soil are happening a litter later than initially expected.
In an updated schedule released Wednesday, NASA said it is now looking at March 2 for the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon test flight. The launch will feature a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Crew Dragon astronaut capsule without any crew — for now. The Elon Musk-led rocket launch company plans to launch with crew aboard in July.
The company completed a static fire test of its Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule attached in late January at Kennedy Space Center’s launch complex 39A.
The demo flight for NASA’s astronaut program was originally scheduled for early January, but during the 35-day government shutdown, that date slipped to late February.
NASA’s other Commercial Crew partner, Boeing, is also planning a later date for a test flight of its CST-100 Starliner astronaut capsule. This one, also without crew, will take place in April at the earliest.
According to NASA, United Launch Alliance is finalizing processing for the Atlas V rocket that will provide the thrust for the Starliner launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 41. The Starliner capsule, meanwhile, is also undergoing testing.
Boeing’s crewed launch is scheduled for August.
“There still are many critical steps to complete before launch and while we eagerly are anticipating these launches, we will step through our test flight preparations and readiness reviews,” said Kathy Lueders, the Commercial Crew Program manager, in a news release. “We are excited about seeing the hardware we have followed through development, integration, and ground testing move into flight.”
Both companies must prove they can perform the missions safely before being certified for NASA crew rotation missions to the International Space Station.
If schedules hold, the crewed launches this summer will be the first to take off from U.S. soil carrying humans to low-Earth orbit since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.