NASA Targets Crew Dragon Launch on March 2, Pushes Starliner's to April

SpaceX Crew Dragon

SpaceX Crew Dragon

NASA announced this morning that the company is targeting March 2 for an uncrewed first flight of its Dragon crew capsule.

A look at SpaceX's first Crew Dragon spacecraft attached to its Falcon 9 rocket as both sit inside their hangar at Launch Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida in January 2019. NASA officials said SpaceX's Demo-2 launch with crew is now slated for July and Boeing's first crew flight test with astronauts is no earlier than August.

Boeing also plans to test-fly their capsule, dubbed the Starliner, possibly as soon as April. The unmanned Demo-1 test flight, will see the astronaut-adapted cargo module fire off into space.

Assuming the in-flight test goes well and no other major problems crop up, NASA and SpaceX hope to launch another Crew Dragon this summer, this one carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the station.

It will also be the first time in history a privately-built spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station.

More time is still needed to complete testing, training and safety reviews, according to NASA. President Trump made a passing reference to commercial crew missions in his State of the Union address February 5.

"There still are many critical steps to complete before launch and while we eagerly are anticipating these launches, we will step through our test flight preparations and readiness reviews", said Lueders.

It would be the first launch of US astronauts into orbit, from USA soil, since NASA's shuttle program ended in 2011. The first unpiloted flight of Boeing's Starliner capsule is now targeted for the April timeframe.

In order to meet NASA's requirements, both SpaceX and Boeing must demonstrate an ability to safely and efficiently transport crews into space.

Then will come huge milestones - crewed test flights to the ISS.

Unlike approaches by unpiloted Dragon cargo ships, which halt their approaches just short of the station and wait for the lab's robot arm to lock on and pull them in for berthing, the Crew Dragon will fly a computer-guided rendezvous all the way to docking at a modified port at the front of the space station. As with all human spaceflight vehicle development, learning from each test and adjusting as necessary to reduce risk to the crew may override planning dates.

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