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First flights of commercial manned capsules in 2018

According to a NASA presentation last month, it appears that both SpaceX and Boeing are aiming to complete both their first unmanned and manned flights this coming year.

The schedules remain tight, but SpaceX plans to do its first unmanned demo mission in April, followed by a manned flight in August, while Boeing’s first unmanned flight is set for August, with the first manned flight in November. If these schedules happen 2018 should be quite an exciting year.


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  • Dick Eagleson

    According to the NASA document shown, SpaceX’s first manned mission of Dragon 2 is still set for August 2018, not November.

  • Dick Eagleson: Too much eggnog this week. I mistyped, misreading the document. Post is fixed.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Nog’ll getcha.

    If these schedules hold, Boeing’s CEO, who’s been making noises about beating SpaceX to Mars with SLS lately, isn’t going to be pleased. SpaceX could wind up stepping on Starliner’s first unmanned mission with Dragon 2’s first manned mission, and then topping Starliner’s first manned mission with that circumlunar tourist flight at year’s end.

  • Mark

    Does Dragon 2 require Falcon Heavy or can it be lifted by a plain-Jane Falcon 9? Dragon 2 and Falcon Heavy seemed to be paired in any discussion I’ve seen about the SpaceX manned capsule, but it strikes me that if you are going LEO to the ISS that you should be able to use a F9. I suppose the answer depends on how much mass is required for life support.

  • Edward

    At the end of the presentation are updates on Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada. I was surprised to see an entry in the Sierra Nevada slide labeled: “Day In The Life Test (final).” I have never seen this type of test before. Does anyone have knowledge as to what it might be?

    I especially enjoyed the Combined Milestone Summary slide. There is a lot of good information there on the progress of the two systems. I have been to plenty of Test Readiness Reviews (and CDRs and PDRs and all kinds of reviews), but it would be interesting to be at the Operational Readiness Review meetings.

  • Mark: Dragon 2, for the manned flights to ISS, will always use the Falcon 9.

  • Localfluff

    Mark, Falcon Heavy could send a (modified) Dragon 2 to the Moon. With a landing stage (a fuel tank and maybe modification of the Super Draco engines in the Dragon). To get back to Earth, a second Falcon Heavy would be needed to separately land the return vehicle.

    Crewed flight is demanded most in low Earth orbit. So commercial companies of course develop spacecrafts within the mass capacity of the ~20 tons to LEO launchers of today. Only Orion cannot launch without SLS.

  • wodun

    Most already know this but the Dragon Crew will be using the Falcon 9 Block IV, which is supposed to be the final iteration of the Falcon 9. When looking at the progress of their Dragon Crew testing, we also have to keep an eye on their Block IV variant.

    Anyone know when the first Falcon 9 Block IV is supposed to take flight?

  • Localfluff

    wodun, As I understand it, Block 5 (not IV) is meant for the special safety requirements for crewed flights and so will be the only version to fly with the Dragon 2 capsule crewed. And the date for that isn’t carved in stone yet, but everyone expects it to happen 2018. SpaceX said that the Merlin text explosion a few weeks ago doesn’t affect their launch schedule (but since Block 5 with Dragon 2 isn’t scheduled yet…) Why would they test fire Merlin if not for the final version of Falcon 9?

  • Kirk

    Boeing ‘s Starliner will be lifted by an Atlas V 422 (or N22 since it has No fairing) — a never before flown configuration which, besides having two strap on solid rocket boosters, also has a twin engine Centaur upper stage.

  • Edward

    Localfluff asked: “Why would they test fire Merlin if not for the final version of Falcon 9?

    They test fire each engine before installing it on a vehicle. First firing of each engine is on a test stand, not on a rocket. It is unclear what exactly went wrong with that test, but SpaceX made it clear that it was not a flaw with the engine.

    You are off by one number. The Falcon Block 5, coming early next year, is expected as the final version for the Falcon 9 series.
    On 17 February 2017, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell stated that the Block 5 changes are mainly driven by upgrades needed for the Commercial Crew program and National Security Space Launch requirements.

    So far, I have heard no date commitments for launching the first Block 5 Falcon 9. There is only a vague “early next year” statement.

    Since the Block 5 is the one used for manned flight, it would be best if SpaceX uses that same version for their unmanned demonstration flight, in April, to verify its safety level for the manned demonstration flight.

  • Richard M

    Eric Berger seems skeptical that either vehicle will fly in 2018, based on what his sources are saying.

    But we shall see.

  • ken anthony

    I remember water leaking into the Dragon. Is that still an issue (especially now that it will not be landing on land?)

  • Edward

    ken anthony,
    My recollection is that it was a valve problem, quickly corrected.

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