Crew Dragon Flight Set for Jan. 7

NASA astronaut Suni Williams in a Crew Dragon simulator.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is set to launch from the Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 7 in the first flight test of NASA’s commercial crew program.

The vehicle will make an automated flight to the International Space Station (ISS) without a crew. If the flight is successful, a crewed flight test will follow with astronauts aboard.

A source with NASA’s Commercial Crew program who is not authorized to speak with the media said that not all Crew Dragon systems will be tested in the January flight. As a result, more work might be necessary for the flight with crew, potentially delaying it beyond the planned June launch date.

In between the flights, SpaceX will also conduct an in-flight abort test to demonstrate the ability of the spacecraft to escape from a malfunctioning booster. The company already an abort test from the launch pad several years ago.

Following the successful completion of the two Crew Dragon flight tests, NASA will certify Crew Dragon to carry astronauts to the station on a commercial basis. That will end the space agency’s dependence upon Russian Soyuz vehicles, which are the only vehicles that can fly humans to the station at present.

Boeing is set to make two flight tests with its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to the space station later in 2019. The company also needs to conduct a launch pad abort test.

The source said the first Starliner test is planned as an all-up test with all of Starliner’s systems. If the flight goes well, NASA is considering making the flight test with crew into a long-duration mission.

The space agency has reserved seats on Russian Soyuz vehicles until January 2020. If commercial crew vehicles are not operational by then, NASA could lose crew access to the space station.

  • ReSpaceAge


  • SamuelRoman13

    It might be a little hard for her to move her hand up to the screen while pulling 4gs. A control stick at the side would be better. When they do the crew flight a new capsule so a lot of stuff will be tested for the first time. The launch, separation, navigate to ISS. dock. undock, reentry and landing is worth testing separate.

  • gunsandrockets

    I believe the Dragon 2 heatshield is rated for lunar-return speeds, and the Falcon Heavy certainly has enough payload for the job. But for matching the orbit with Lunar Gateway and then the departure burn I think the Dragon 2 would need an additional propulsion module, or at least a lot more propellant than Dragon 2 normally carries.

    Interestingly, the original Falcon 1 upper stage with its pressure fed Kestrel engine is ideally sized for the job. Its an interesting thought experiment to imagine that upper stage modified into a Dragon 2 service module for lunar missions.

  • The unmanned Mercury flight MA-4 back in 1961 had a “crew simulator” on board somewhat similar to what you suggest.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Not Surprised. Some parts of NASA will never be ready to give up its monopoly and allow astronauts to fly on a commercial taxi to space. Its just not done…

    or as Wernher Von Braun once stated.

    “Our two greatest problems are gravity and paperwork. We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.”

    Its no wonder Elon Musk has moved on from Commercial Crew and Dragon2 to focus on the “NASA Free” Starship.

  • ThomasLMatula

    True, but the Tigercat could out do them and it had 4 cannons and 4 machines guns.

    But all were sidelined by the jet revolution.

  • redneck

    Somewhat similar to foreign sales of ITAR free components. No US involvement = far less hassle. Some defense secrecy is necessary, too much leads to Ariane, Soyuz, and Long March sales.

  • redneck

    So I was apparently wrong by at least three fighters, though the obsolescence point remains.

  • duheagle

    Modest is the appropriate number for such. It’s difficult for we poor humans to keep a mental picture of what each of some large array of switches is supposed to do, especially the “only in the event of emergency” ones.

    The Apollo 12 episode of the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon has a vignette illustrating this when an obscure control switch becomes an object of hurried conversation in the Command Module after the Saturn 5 vehicle stack is struck by lightning not long after liftoff. Detail wonk Alan Bean saves the day.

    Placement fairly close to the pilot’s body is also good, just not so close that there is much risk of accidental activation. If any of those important switches need to be thrown during an emergency under boost or re-entry at high G, you don’t want to have to make a long reach to do it.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Not Surprised. Some parts of NASA will never be ready to give up its
    monopoly and allow astronauts to fly on a commercial taxi to space. Its
    just not done…”

    no doubt

    but that does not explain what those words and phrase mean

    as for “starship” LOL

  • windbourne

    EVERYBODY takes their eyes off the road to check speed, look in mirrors and yes, push buttons.
    With our MS, we have an over-the-wheel panel for speedometer, and others, along with a center panel with touch screen in which we had the same buttons on the top and bottom. That is until this last software update. Now, all drivers are getting use to this new set-up (kind of like getting a new vehicle).

  • envy

    It tested the heat shield… but the shield failed the test and they had to redesign it.

  • envy

    Delays beyond the planned June date for DM-2 are inevitable. Same goes for both Starliner test flights. Development programs always slip, despite all efforts to account for slips.

  • envy

    Neither the booster nor the capsule are likely to be reused, IMO. The capsule will be the same one flown for DM-1.

  • envy

    Go for test launches ASAP.

  • windbourne

    no, but it is important that the capsule clears and lands safely, regardless of re-use.

  • windbourne

    not sure that I would have done it on the bottom. At the least, they should have a cover over the switches. IOW, you have push up the cover, and then pull down the switch.

  • envy

    Yes, that’s the goal. The fate of the booster is much less critical.

  • Douglas Messier

    A lot of uninformed speculation. The source is rock solid. The explanation is much more mundane.

    Some systems are not ready, which is not unusual given the way SpaceX iterates. The most recent launch was the first all-up Block 5 in the configuration required for human flight. SpaceX also has to go through a NASA certification process. That has resulted in some adjustments for SpaceX, given its iterative nature and the fact that it doesn’t always document everything very well.

    Boeing has been slower in getting Starliner ready for flight. But, they’re used to dealing with government certification processes.The experience of serving as the prime integrator on ISS helps. Starliner is also using a lot of flight-proven systems that are easier to certify.

    Finally, I would point out that even though the program is called commercial crew, NASA is ultimately paying nearly the entire cost of the program. And it’s their asses on the line if things go sideways. They will need to explain why to Congress and the American people. They have a right to dictate what standards the partners must meet and how the vehicles will be certified.

  • delphinus100

    And even if the booster is recovered, as with Blue Origin’s in-flight abort, the stresses on it would be such that it would be considered no longer flyable again, anyway.

  • envy
  • Douglas Messier

    Bridenstine says he expects flight to slip into spring even tho commercial crew is working toward January flight. SpaceX is now talking mid-January.

    Note that Bridenstine has publicly stated what I reported. Some systems won’t be ready for first crew Dragon flight.

  • Jeff2Space

    Thanks for your reporting. Everyone I know who’s “into space” in watching commercial crew very closely and wants to see it succeed.