If “everything goes according to plan” in upcoming tests, the first astronaut abroad SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon capsule will be able to go into orbit in its first manned flight by the first quarter of next year, said NASA chief Jim Bridenstine.
This announcement of a revised time line for the flight shows that progress is being made by SpaceX to bring back on track its project for Crew Dragon after it was slowed down because of an explosion in April while conducting a ground test as well as technical issues regarding its re-entry parachute system.
The key to achieving the top priority for NASA’s resumption of the sending into space of “American astronauts on American rockets from American soil” was the successful development of the capsule of SpasceX, Bridenstine said, and that would be the first for the premier space agency of the world since the end of its last space shuttle program in 2011.
The comments by the NASA chief were made after his visit to the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and following a tour of the facility conducted by the company’s chief executive Elon Musk.
The initial time frame target for NASA and SpaceX for conducting an initial test flight to the International Space Station atop the Crew Dragon with two astronauts was slated for 2019.
Bridenstine said that there would be a series of system tests that SpaceX will be conducting by the end of the current year and their success will determine whether NASA and SpaceX would be able to achieve the revised time target. The tests will include examining the functionality of an in-flight abort system at a high-altitude which is designed to push the capsule carrying the astronauts into a safe distance in the eventuality of a failure of the rocket while on its way up to orbit. Ten more mid-air “drop tests” designed to examine the degree of dependability, resilience and performance of the parachute that slows down the descent of the capsule into the ocean following a reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere will also be tested.
“If everything goes according to plan, it would be the first quarter of next year,” Bridenstine said in response to a question about when the capsule would be ready to fly astronauts into orbit. He however also cautioned that the there can be a delay in the new time line as well.
“We are not going to take any undue risk,” he said, standing beside Musk and the two astronauts slated to fly aboard the Crew Dragon – Doug Hurley and Bob Benkoe.
The approach of SpaceX to spacecraft technology development of “fail fast, then fix” was praised by Bridenstine, which he said was unlike the approach adopted by the contractors of NASA.
The total budget for two commercial launch companies SpaceX and Boeing Co that NASA has appointed to develop rocket-and-capsule systems that would take NASA astronauts to space with US made hardware has been set at $6.8 billion.
(Adapted from Reuters.com)