Flight Readiness Review Clears Crew Dragon for Launch Next Week

Crew Dragon for DM-1 mission with Falcon 9 booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

A week from today, if all goes well, a SpaceX Falcon 9 will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the first Crew Dragon spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

That’s the word from NASA, which completed a flight readiness review (FRR) with the company on Friday. The launch is set for Saturday, March 2, at 2:48 am EST from historic Pad 39A, which previously saw launches of Apollo 11 and the space shuttle.

The first Crew Dragon flight will not have any astronauts aboard, but it will include an instrumented mannequin to measure the flight environment for humans , SpaceX officials said.

NASA officials said they are working some issues with the spacecraft, which means it is not fully qualified to fly astronauts. However, the space agency is comfortable enough with the risks to fly it to ISS.

NASA officials said that ISS partner Russia has expressed reservations about the software that Crew Dragon will be using during its approach and docking with the space station. Officials say they will be working to resolve the concerns prior to launch.

The space agency is also concerned about the helium composite overwrap pressure vessels (COPVs) on the Falcon 9 rocket. An explosion involving one of them led to the destruction of a rocket on the test stand in September 2017.

The Crew Dragon will have eight Super Drago engines aboard that form the launch abort system. The engines are capable of taking the spacecraft to orbit if there is a problem with the Falcon 9 second stage.

After the Dragon capsule splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean, SpaceX will recycle it for use during an in-flight abort test. The current “planning date” for the test is June.

Next week’s flight is the first of two tests of the Crew Dragon system. The planning date for a flight to the space station with crew is July.