Unmanned test flight of manned Dragon delayed again?


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SpaceX has applied for a new launch license from the FAA for its unmanned test flight of its manned Dragion capsule that sets the launch date as no earlier than March 2nd.

This does not necessarily mean the launch is delayed until then. As noted by commenter Kirk Hilliard here at Behind the Black, “their previous license was valid through 1 March, so they may just be covering their bases here while still planning on launching under the authority of their previous license.”

Regardless, I have seen nothing to change my opinion about the cause of these delays: the NASA bureaucracy. SpaceX has been ready to do this launch since December. It has already done two successful launch rehearsals, one in which they did a successful static fire test, as is standard for the company. Both illustrate their readiness. The launch would use their leased launchpad using their launch crew. There has been no indication of any technical reason for the delays, other than a demand that SpaceX complete paperwork for NASA and the government shutdown (which has not prevented other launches from government facilities).

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5 comments

  • David

    Discussion over at NSF has been predicting this slip into March for several days now. The main driver seems to be that the previous delays pushed the launch to mid/late February, but the ISS schedule at those times is full, so it’s slipping to March for that reason.

    I’ve heard conflicting reports on whether SpaceX was truly ready to do this launch or not. It’s pretty clear that there are concrete things they haven’t done yet, but it seems to me that this is just because they’re driving to the external schedule, they know that launch in December or January was not going to happen, so they haven’t rushed to get some of those things done.

    On the shutdown, it seems like if this was being treated as a conventional launch, the facilities and range were operational and it could have gone off. But since this isn’t being treated that way and is facing all the various program approval meetings etc, that’s where the delay is. Of course, that raises the question of why this demo flight needs the overwhelming amount of oversight and review it’s getting. The answer is probably equal parts CYA, not invented here, and just administrators that see an opportunity to administrate.

  • mike shupp

    Well … layoffs as Tesla, layoffs at SpaceX … I get the impression Elon is pinching the pennies a bit these days, not necessarily because he’s staring at any real financial problems, but maybe just on general principles. I mean, one of that standard reasons we give for preferring commercial developments in space (and elsewhere) is that entrepreneurs can do things more frugally than outfits working on a “cost-plus” basis.

    Rough on would-be and actual employees, let’s concede, but what with a month long partial government shutdown and potential cutbacks in launches of large comm satellites, it makes sense to hedge a bit against uncertainties.

  • Edward

    Regardless of the cause of these delays, a month for month or week for week slip in schedule is a bad sign. There is no convergence in sight for the event to occur. The lack of progress and seeming inability to get to a point of progress is unsettling. Whenever such schedule slips lasted this long on projects that I had worked on, higher authorities would begin to look into ways to get things moving again toward completion.

  • Edward: In this case however the higher authorities in NASA appear quite content with the delays, for political reasons.

  • Edward

    Robert,
    You wrote: “the higher authorities in NASA appear quite content with the delays, for political reasons.

    I have seen this kind of thing happen on defense contracts, and that is wasteful of money and the talent that could finish the job and get on to other projects. This is bad enough when it is done on a “cost plus” program, as that costs the tax payers a pretty penny, but to do it to a fixed-price contract is terrible. It means that the customer is unreliable, makes new companies wary of bidding on the next project, and makes every company consider bidding higher on future projects for fear that politics will cost them too much money.

    I only hope that SpaceX is able to assign the technicians, engineers, and other staff to other projects or to work ahead on the CCDev contract in order to reduce their overall costs.

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