NASA delays unmanned test of manned Dragon again


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While not yet confirmed, industry rumors for the past twenty-four hours are saying that NASA has once again forced a delay in the launch of SpaceX’s unmanned test of manned Dragon, pushing it back into March.

I have linked to one article, but I have been hearing these rumors from a number of sources.

This delay, if true, will cause SpaceX scheduling problems in numerous ways. First, it will conflict with the second Falcon Heavy launch, presently planned for March using the same launchpad. Second, it forces a pushback on the manned Dragon launch. Because SpaceX will use this capsule to fly its launch abort mission, it needs at least three months to prep this capsule for its reuse. Assuming that is a success, it will then need three more months to assess that launch abort flight and prepare for the manned flight. This means the manned flight cannot happen prior to October.

Why the delays? Nowhere in this article or in any of the rumors I have heard has any real reason been given. The article says the following, with the important words highlighted:

As of the first week of December 2018, SpaceX was reportedly planning towards a mid-January 2019 launch debut for Crew Dragon. By the end of December, DM-1 was no earlier than the end of January. By the end of January, DM-1 had slipped to from late-February to NET March 2019. Put in slightly different terms, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch debut has been more or less indefinitely postponed for the last two months, with planning dates being pushed back at roughly the same pace as the passage of time (i.e. a day’s delay every day).

Admittedly, DM’s apparently indefinite postponement may well be – and probably is – more of an artifact than a sign of any monolithic cause. While the US government’s longest-ever shutdown (35 days) undoubtedly delayed a major proportion of mission-critical work having to do with extensive NASA reviews of SpaceX and Crew Dragon’s launch readiness (known as Readiness Reviews), much of the 60+ day DM-1 delay can probably be attributed to the complexity of the tasks at hand. Being as it is the first time SpaceX has ever attempted a launch directly related to human spaceflight, as well as the first time NASA has been back at the helm (more or less) of US astronaut launch endeavors in more than 7.5 years, significant delays should come as no surprise regardless of how disappointing they may be. [emphasis mine]

The first paragraph above outlines the endless delays that appear to me to be entirely caused by NASA’s endless review process, much of it designed solely to delay things, for political reasons. SpaceX has clearly been ready to launch since December. Moreover, NASA is somewhat irrelevant to this launch, as it is run by a SpaceX launch team on a SpaceX-run launchpad. The delays are all paperwork related, imposed by NASA bureaucrats hostile to this commercial private spacecraft because it is showing the world NASA’s own inability to build its own manned rocket and spacecraft, SLS/Orion.

These NASA bureaucrats are clearly putting their own interests ahead of the interests of the nation. While they play petty political games with this launch, their delays risk putting us in the position next year of having no way to ferry our own astronauts to and from our own space station. The contract with Russia runs out this year, and Russia has said that it would be very difficult for them to quickly schedule more flights beyond that.

Meanwhile, what is Trump doing? Nothing. He is allowing this, even though he has the power to prevent it.

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2 comments

  • Tom Billings

    “Meanwhile, what is Trump doing? Nothing. He is allowing this, even though he has the power to prevent it.”

    This is being done to keep the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee on side. We all know that. Given what that ex-Democrat could do, if he perceives the NASA Administrator, and the WH, as being against his interests in promoting Northern Alabama prosperity, and its dependence on his power, I would be surprised at anything else happening. This is no longer just the NASA budget, but every program Trump has pushed, being at risk. This is what I expected after the November elections.

    Sure Trump has the power to give executive orders, …as long as he can find the money in enough accounts to get it done before those accounts run out, and he has to go hat in hand to the Senate Appropriations Committee. This is the way the system has been run ever since 1797, when the first “high-tech” Navy Frigates were ordered for the Navy. As long as a program is dependent on government funding, this will eventually happen. That is why Starship/Super Heavy is so important in remaining free of government funding.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “it is showing the world NASA’s own inability to build its own manned rocket and spacecraft, SLS/Orion.

    NASA is adding to this show by demonstrating that it cannot even get a commercial rocket and spacecraft off the launch pad. Add to that the looming loss of Russian launch vehicles for U.S. use, and we see that NASA does a poor job of project and program planning and execution. NASA didn’t even manage, after Challenger and especially Columbia, to get a second manned spacecraft and launch vehicle in case the Space Shuttle became unavailable.

    It is not just a perceived incompetence with Orion-SLS, but a perceived incompetence in the entire manned space program. The perception may be the reality.

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