SpaceX’s first test crew Dragon capsule arrives in Florida


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Capitalism in space: The first man-rated Dragon capsule set to fly has arrived in Florida to be prepped for launch.

Even though the vehicle is called a “Crew Dragon,” this Dragon won’t carry crew on its first flight. Instead, it’s due to make an uncrewed practice run to the space station during what’s known as Demonstration Mission 1, or DM-1.

Before this week’s shipment to Florida, the Dragon underwent thermal vacuum tests as well as acoustic tests at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. Today SpaceX showed off a picture of the Crew Dragon, which is a redesigned, beefed-up version of its robotic cargo-carrying Dragon, via Twitter and Instagram.

NASA’s current schedule calls for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to launch the DM-1 mission next month from Kennedy Space Center. However, that schedule is dependent not only on the pace of preparations, but also on the timetable for station arrivals and departures.

SpaceX is clearly on schedule to fly the first unmanned test flight in September, and the first manned flight in January 2019. And once that manned flight take place, I can see no reason why operational flights shouldn’t follow soon thereafter.

Yet, NASA said earlier this week that those operational flights will almost certainly be delayed until 2020, mainly because SpaceX might not be able to get the paperwork filled out fast enough.

Here’s my prediction: If SpaceX flies that manned mission in early 2019, expect their operational flights to begin soon thereafter, not in 2020. NASA will have no choice but to accept the capsule and begin flights.

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6 comments

  • Michael

    This is good news but what is the status of the new COPV and the fast fuel load question or is the plan to launch a “degraded” version (launch vehicle-wise) just to make some progress?

    Would this not play hob with the overall or final program scheduling?

  • Kirk

    Astronaut Sunita Williams of the Commercial Crew Cadre recently said that, programmatically, they expect crew assignments to be made about one year prior to the crewed demo flight, that they had not yet been made, and that they were expected soon. I wouldn’t think that they would require all that time to prepare for the mission, but it is just one of many hints pointing toward a December/January SpX-DM1 followed by a mid-2019 DM2. I’ll be thrilled if they fly earlier, but I believe that the vendor’s “work-to dates” are misleading.

  • Localfluff

    Will the crew on the first flight be all SpaceX, all NASA or a mix?

  • Kirk

    @Localfluff: All NASA. Boeing had talked about flying one of their own test pilots on the crewed test flight (though I’d expect that to be effected by the contingency plan to use the the crewed test flight as a regular mission), but SpaceX had always planned for the DM2 crew to be all NASA.

  • Kirk

    s/effected/affected/ # Hides head in shame.

    Here is an April 2017 article with Commercial Crew Cadre astronaut Bob Behnken also saying that crew assignments were expected about a year prior to the flights, but predicting those assignments in summer 2017.

    These flights have been a long time coming, but we are finally getting close.

  • Anthony Domanico

    I’m so excited to see these capsules fly! I’m really hoping they are perfectly nominal flights. It will be one more glaringly obvious reason for Congress to get behind more COTS like programs. These flights will usher in a new era in space endeavors and I don’t think that’s an overstatement. Then NASA and Congress will hopefully stop worrying about paperwork, worry more about developing new technologies, and just get out of the way of NewSpace.

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