SpaceX may launch American astronauts to the International Space Station as early as next year if Dragon capsule tests prove successful.
American astronauts had to rely solely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get to and from orbit since July 2011.
To transport astronauts to the space station and back, NASA had to pay $ 85 million per seat. Now the agency is counting on SpaceX and Boeing to complete this task.
NASA wants private American vehicles to end this dependence and has been encouraging their development via its Commercial Crew Program. In September 2014, NASA awarded $2.6 billion to SpaceX and $4.2 billion to Boeing to finish work on their astronaut taxis — capsules called Crew Dragon and the CST-100 Starliner, respectively.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made a statement: “If everything goes according to plan, then we can launch the spacecraft in the first quarter of next year, but remember - and this is the most important - there are still things that we must decide to ensure the safety of our astronauts.”
On October 10, administrator Bridenstine visited SpaceX headquarters to see the progress being made on Commercial Crew flights to ISS. Dragon is nearly ready, NASA chief executive Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX founder Elon Musk said during an event at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Photos by NASA HQ PHOTO
The first quarter of 2020, that is, from January to March, is the realistic goal of the SpaceX Demo-2 mission. That test flight that will deliver NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station (ISS) and back. This will be followed by operational contract missions to the ISS.
But Bridenstine emphasized that this timeline will be preserved only if everything goes according to plan with the development of Crew Dragon.
As part of the NASA Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX is developing and testing the Crew Dragon parachute system, which consists of two drogue parachutes and four main ring-sail parachutes - the same type of parachutes that have been used successfully in the past for spaceflight.
Over the past four years, SpaceX has completed 30 drop tests and 18 system-level tests of its parachute system, including the successful flight test of the Demo-1 mission.
Through testing, SpaceX sought to better characterize the fields based on nearly 50 recent tests and calculations, 19 Cargo Dragon parachute landings and the successful Demo-1 mission to ensure that the Crew Dragon has the most secure parachute design. In addition, these new results are transmitted to NASA to ensure that all applications for human space flight are evaluated for adequate margin and reliability.
Before Demo-2, SpaceX has another big test mission: the in-flight abort test (IFA), which will demonstrate the performance of SuperDracos during launch from Cape Canaveral.
Yesterday, October 29, on Twitter, SpaceX posted photos of installing SuperDraco engines, which will power Crew Dragon’s launch escape system, for the first mission with NASA astronauts on board
According to Mr. Musk’s prognosis, IFA will happen no earlier than in 4-6 weeks.
He announced this yesterday on his Twitter: