Saturday , June 3 2023

NASA Finally Schedules Test Space. Spacecraft Designed for Astronauts


Artist's Concept of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket during launch.
Image: SpaceX

The first flight test of an unpiloted SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft has been scheduled for January, NASA said yesterday. The test marks an important milestone for the United States, which was not able to independently deliver astronauts to space since 2011 when the Space Shuttle program was retired.

Mark your calendar, folks-the uncrewed test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, called Demo-1, has been scheduled for January 7, 2019 at 11:57 pm ET. A Falcon 9 rocket will launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and carry the capsule to the International Space Station. The space agency will carefully monitor the performance of the rocket, Crew Dragon, ground system operations, and the docking procedure.

"Following the test flights, NASA will review the performance data and resolve issues as needed," wrote the space agency in a release. However, "as with all human spaceflight development," NASA said.

Should all go well, and NASA declares the Crew Dragon capsule fit for human occupants, a second test, called Demo-2, will happen-fingers crossed in June. The Demo-2 test will once again utilize a Falcon 9 rocket, but this time two NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will be delivered to the ISP, reports Spaceflight Now.

Prior to Demo-2, however, NASA intends to conduct an in-flight abortion test, during which time the abortive system of an unpiloted Crew Dragon will be engaged, jettisoning the capsule from the top of a Falcon 9 shortly after launch, according to Space News.

But we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves; the abort test and Demo-2 will happen only if the Demo-1 test is deemed a success by NASA.

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Without a doubt, this is a very important test as far as the US space program is concerned. Since 2011, the United States has had to rely on other partners to get its astronauts into space, namely the Russians and their Soyuz program. The vulnerability of this arrangement was recently abolished by Soyuz launch of October 11, 2018-an event that has been made for NASA astronauts in a Russian review of the incident. And given that NASA's contract with Russia's Soyuz program expires this month, there is fear that the US will not have access to the ISS for about a year.

Yes, problems or delayed delays with the Crew Dragon would be bad, but not catastrophic. Boeing is also working on a crew capsule, the CST-100 Starliner, which is scheduled for an unpiloted test in March 2019, according to NASA, and a piloted test in August 2019. For these tests, Boeing will use the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

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As an important part, some of these tests could be impacted by a newly announced NASA review of workplace safety culture both at SpaceX and Boeing.

Earlier this week, NASA said it is going to conduct a "cultural assessment study" of the two companies, including before the crewed test flights will be allowed to happen. NASA said it "fully expected[s] Elon Musk's CEO, Elon Musk's Joomla Rogan podcast in September, is the most anticipated re-reaction to SpaceX CEO, when he (apparently) smoked pot and sipped whiskey during the show.

Way to go, Elon.

[NASA, Spaceflight Now, Space News, Reuters via CBC]
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