Cover image: NASA astronaut Suni Williams participates in a simulated mission inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon while wearing SpaceX’s spacesuit. Photo Credit: SpaceX
Amidst the chaos of pre-Thanksgiving travel, and perhaps a bit buried by the viral story of a Christian missionary being killed by an isolated tribe, NASA and SpaceX announced on Wednesday that the first test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule will happen in just about a month and a half.
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The launch is currently scheduled for Monday, January 7th, 2019. While the January launch will not have crew aboard, a successful launch means that a crewed test launch will happen in the summer of 2019. This means that, for the first time ever, astronauts would be put into space using a commercial rocket.
A needed test
This is incredibly exciting, if not desperately needed, as NASA is currently solely reliant on their Russian counterpart Roscosmos to put astronauts in orbit. What makes the timing even more serendipitous is the hole that was intentionally drilled on a Russian-made Soyuz capsule attached to the space station a few months ago as well as the Soyuz launch failure just last month.
SpaceX isn’t alone in their pursuit of securing crewed commercial launches, though. Boeing also has their own crew capsule that they’re testing, according to NASA.
Test Flight Planning Dates:
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): March 2019
Boeing Pad Abort Test: Between OFT and CFT
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): August 2019
SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): January 7, 2019
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: Between Demo-1 and Demo-2
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): June 2019
Another commercial rocket company, Blue Origin (which is owned by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos), is making progress towards putting humans in space, though they have only launched suborbital-class rockets (meaning they did not make an orbit around Earth).
The launch in January is being called Demo-1, and the scheduled crewed launch in June will be Demo-2. Between these two launches, NASA plans on conducting an in-flight abort test. If all goes well, NASA says that the first official commercial crew mission on the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule will be August 2019, with a second launch scheduled for December 2019.