NASA greenlights SpaceX crew capsule test to ISS

Cristina Cross
February 26, 2019

Billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX is ready to fly its first commercially-built spacecraft designed for humans to the International Space Station, Nasa said Friday after a high-level agency review of the project in the final week before the flight. But the capsule will still fly to the International Space Station, following its planned March 2 liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

"It's more than a test flight, it's really a mission to the International Space Station, it's part of the Commercial Crew Program that really gets us ready for the ... crew flight that comes up later", Bill Gerstenmaier, director of space flight operations at NASA Headquarters, said of the unpiloted test flight.

There will be no crew for the Demo-1 flight of Crew Dragon.

NASA ended its space-shuttle program in 2011 and since then has relied on buying spots on Russian Soyuz rockets to send U.S. astronauts to the orbiting ISS.

The March 2 flight will be identical to a flight that is set to take two astronauts to the ISS later in the year, possibly in July. Anticipating potential weather or technical issues, SpaceX should have three opportunities to launch between March 2 and March 9, but if it misses this window it's not clear when the company would have another attempt. "We always learn from tests", Lueders added.

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This undated photo made available by SpaceX on Feb 6, 2019 shows the Dragon crew capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket at the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida where the Saturn Vs and space shuttles were launched.

SpaceX recovery crews stationed nearby will pull the capsule onto its recovery ship GO Searcher and haul it back to Port Canaveral for detailed post-flight inspections. The agreement with Russian Federation to fly crews on Soyuz will end in 2019.

NASA also is funding development of a Boeing capsule known as the CST-100 Starliner that is scheduled for an unpiloted launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket later this spring. SpaceX plans to conduct a high-altitude launch abort in April, reusing this same capsule.

In August 2018, NASA also revealed the names of nine USA astronauts who will fly on the first certification flights for Boeing's Starliner and SpaceX's Dragon.

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