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

    Sure looks a little bit more modern than the mass of switches and levers on Apollo and Shuttle.
    I wonder how radiation effects all those electronics?
    Yes I know they plan on flying well within the Van Allan belts.

    Would a Falcon Heavy Dragon 2 flight be possible to and from NASA’s planned lunar outpost?
    Would spaceX have to create some sort of service module for such flights?

    The future is shrouded in mystery and endless possibilities!

    🙂

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    I think I’m more excited for the inflight abort test! Should be a great webcast!

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I wonder if they’re going to use a higher rated set of solar cells for longer on station life?

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    can’t wait to watch this launch!

  • ThomasLMatula

    Perhaps, but I think that the Dragon2 will be the “Bearcat” of HSF when Starship enters service.

  • Robert G. Oler

    go go go

  • Robert G. Oler

    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.”

    what is this?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Let’s hope the “Hellcat” is not too far behind. Likely it will be the F4-U, excellent, late, and not ready for its intended role until lather than intended.

  • mattmcc80

    As LEO vehicles, they never leave the magnetosphere, so radiation really isn’t much of a concern for the electronics. Shuttle received — and Soyuz continues to receive — several upgrades that steadily increased the complexity of its onboard electronic systems, Dragon using a touchscreen instead of buttons and switches isn’t much of a stretch beyond that.

  • therealdmt

    Looking forward to this!

    I didn’t like that “not all Crew Dragon systems will be tested” line — sounds too much like Orion’s first flight years ago now, but of course I’m not expecting anything along those lines. There have been multiple warnings now from different sources about the June date though

  • duheagle

    Good question. I wish I were confident we will get any sort of satisfactory answer in the near term.

    The fact that said person “is not authorized to speak with the media” but did so anyway suggests anything along a spectrum from brave whistleblower blowing the whistle on potentially fatal SpaceX derelictions to Marshall/Shelby mole throwing underhanded and unjustified shade on That Which Makes Orion Look Ridiculous.

    It would also be useful to know to whom in the media this alleged nugget was leaked. Journalists and journalists-adjacent often have agendas of their own. Leakers typically tend to favor providing their tidbits, true or false, to people who can be counted upon to “do the right thing” with them – however the leaker may define that.

    It’s also important to note larger context anent individual bits of leakery. In this case, the larger context is what appears to be a full-court press by Elon Musk’s and SpaceX’s enemies to jam up both to the maximum extent possible as Commercial Crew approaches its debut.

    Personally, I suspect that nothing whatever is wrong with Dragon 2 and that this will be made obvious by the three upcoming tests. At that point, the jig – i.e., the anti-SpaceX op-ed campaign, the sudden out-of-left-field “review of contractor safety culture” and this latest bit of unsourced “news,” – will definitely be up. Therefore, all this hugger-mugger seems to me to be aimed at raising as many doubts as possible – no matter how dubious – in advance of said tests so as to delay them as much as possible. If Crew Dragon Demo 1 flies on or about Jan. 7, then we can assume the bad guys no longer have quite so much “juice” as perhaps they formerly did or assumed they still had. And vice versa.

  • duheagle

    Even Dragon 1 was overbuilt in many ways. Dragon 2 still more so. SpaceX has always used redundant component fault-tolerant architectures for its electronics. Given that F9 stage 2’s have made a number of excursions beyond the Van Allen Belts, I suspect the deep space integrity of Dragon 2’s electronics is not an issue.

    And there are a modest number of actual switches incorporated into the Dragon 2 control system.

  • duheagle

    Could be.

  • duheagle

    My recollection of WW2 history is that the Corsair was in service by late ’42 with the Hellcat following in ’43. Both were in service well before the Bearcat appeared in mid-’45.

  • duheagle

    D2 will certainly use tougher solar cells. They’re mounted all the way around the trunk on its exterior surface, not folded up under covers as on D1. As for higher rated, probably yes. The D2 design can’t sun track in any way and only half or less of the total array surface will be illuminated at any given instant.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    Are the untested systems things like CO2 removal and astronaut microphones? These are hard to flight test without a person present. However by closing the capsule door some ground testing is possible.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The F-4 U was not rated for CV duty until quite late in the war. In fact it took the Brits to do it first. Yes, the Bearcat was later, I keep confusing the name with the Wildcat. Gak.

  • ReSpaceAge

    My recollection doesn’t go that far back.
    I was born in 55

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It was my understanding that Dragon does not use rad hard solar cells and that’s one of the limiting ratings that sets the maximum time on station.

  • Terry Stetler

    Could be the parts not being tested in DM-1 will be in the In Flight Abort test, just a Boeing troll using wording to hint a problem without there being one.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Falcon Heavy is never going to get human rated. Starship will not be delayed too many years past aspirational, but SLS, and lunar gateway to nowhere, might be.

  • redneck

    Bearcat, possibly the highest performing piston engine fighter ever introduced. Entered service a bit late for action in WW2 and also just as the early jet fighters were making piston engine fighters obsolete. I took that to be your meaning, short service live of a very good vehicle that enters service just as the vehicle type becomes obsolescent.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Enough with all this innuendo and other associated BS, just “light the bloody candle” and test everything thoroughly that you can. NASA, it really should be just that simple.

  • Jeff2Space

    That Orion that was flown several years ago was much further away from crew capable hardware than the Dragon 2 which will fly in January, IMHO. That first Orion tested a few key systems (heat shield, parachutes, and etc), but beyond that it didn’t even have a full up service module so it certainly wasn’t outfitted to carry a crew.

  • Jeff2Space

    I could not help but parse this sentence very carefully: “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.”

    This sentence does not say that the untested systems won’t be on the capsule, just that they won’t be tested. Some systems simply can’t be tested without a crew on board. This is as true for Dragon 2 as it is for Starliner and Orion. So you have two options for such systems:

    1. You don’t even bother installing them on an uncrewed test flight.
    2. You install all the systems even if you know they’re not able to be tested.

    Either way, the statement by the person “not authorized to speak with the media” comes across as odd to me without specific details of what systems won’t be tested.

  • delphinus100

    Indeed. Especially abort and other vital controls that can be readily reached and felt through suit gloves, and under acceleration.

    Some things (even in cars, as I believe Ford is learning, as the lack of tactile feedback means taking eyes off road) definitely should not be left to a touch screen.

  • P.K. Sink

    I remember reading some time back that the first flight would not include life support equipment.

  • Jeff2Space

    Makes sense. Without people on board, you can’t test the life support equipment anyway.

  • windbourne

    Im amazed that NASA has not developed an artificial breathing, perspiring crew member to test this. BUT, I would guess that they test the heck out of it on the ground. Still, there are differences.

  • windbourne

    then ford has built things wrong.
    With Tesla, we do not have that issue.

  • ThomasLMatula

    But it may prove that NASA is wrong in its models. Remember this is the same NASA that stopped wasting funding on reusable launch vehicles because they were impractical to build… Then Elon Musk sunck them in with his profits from COTS that was NASA assumed would only use expendable vehicles and capsules like the old days.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Now, now. It would not be proper for SpaceX to launch crews while Boeing hasn’t flown yet. Gotta find some excuse for dragging it out longer.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I am curious what this thing about “something may not work” (ok close anyway) is all about. it sounds like SpaceX is no where ready to launch crews

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yep 🙂

  • ThomasLMatula

    The only problem with the F4-U was on carrier landings. It didn’t stop the Marines from putting it to good use in the war.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Which makes sense as its mission is just to dump the cargo, put up the cargo returning to Earth and leave. Why build in things, and expenses, not needed.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Which is exactly what they want you to think.

  • Robert G. Oler

    it doesnt matter what “I” or you think but I know folks in commercial crew at NASA and they dont think that they are ready to launch crews…and without them thinking so…no soap

    why do you think “”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.”

    means

  • Robert G. Oler

    that is not accurate.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Think both the Dornier Do 338 Pfeil and the Focke-Wulf Ta 152 have a higher performance. They are also more lethal with three cannons as compare to the Bearcat’s initial armament of quad 50-cal machine guns.

  • redneck

    Wanted. One (1) test subject for spaceflight vehicle test. Estimated chances of death or permanent disability estimated at under 10% Unpaid test subject but some perks. Must sign unlimited waver.

  • windbourne

    well, there have been plenty of ppl that said they would be willing to ride the dragon first time it flew. 🙂

  • windbourne

    ‘modest’ being the key word. It is just on the bottom row.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Do you own a Tesla? Do you have to take your eyes off the road sometimes to read the display or make adjustments or does it come with a “heads up” display?

  • J_Pod

    That’s be great too if they can land the booster and the capsule lands safely and they’d only be out some fuel and retooling costs onthe hardware side.

  • duheagle

    Quite. I’m pretty sure the crew breathing mix system and the CO2 scrubbers aren’t going to get much of a workout on the uncrewed demo for instance. Probably no empty suits going along for the ride either, though I could be wrong about that. Even if one or more crash test dummies make the trip in suits, though, that fancy touchpad control surface will also go unexercised. If there is any meal prep equipment aboard, that also seems unlikely to be in play. And then there are whatever sanitary facilities as may be aboard also going “untested.” There are some things that just can’t be realistically tested absent one or more “meatbags,” as the Planetary Society likes to refer to we Homo Saps.

  • duheagle

    If the display changes in response to touches, I don’t see the problem. D2 is designed to operate independent of crew inputs in any case. And to the extent D2 can actually be “flown,” doing so doesn’t involve needing to look out any windows. Can’t say the same for a Ford or even a Tesla.

  • duheagle

    My personal recollection doesn’t go that far back either. I was born in 51. But there are these things called books. There’s also the Internet. Plus, my dad was a veteran of WW2, though, as he saw all his service in North Africa, Sicily and the ETO, he wouldn’t have had any familiarity with F-4U’s, F6F’s or F8F’s. He was in USAAF medium bomber maintenance – Mitchells and Marauders.

  • duheagle

    Understandable. There’s an obvious family resemblance among the “cats.” We fought the first half of the Pacific War with the Wildcat and the second half with the Hellcat. The Bearcat showed up for the last 90 days or so but got no chance to make much of a name for itself.

    The F-4U’s problem on CV’s was its huge prop. The gull wings needed to keep that thing clear of the deck, plus the fact the Corsair was one of the last of the tail-draggers, gave it a sharply nose-up landing angle that was quite pucker-factor-y on a CV landing.

  • duheagle

    Can’t find any info with which to either confirm or deny this. The D2 has to be able to remain on station at ISS for up to six months so the solar array has to last at least that long.