SpaceX could launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in early 2020. That’s if tests on the company’s Crew Dragon capsule prove conclusive.
SpaceX is almost ready to launch NASA astronauts to ISS. Crew Dragon is now nearly ready, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX founder Elon Musk said today (Oct. 10) during an event at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.
“We are getting very close, and we’re very confident that, in the first part of next year, we will be ready to launch American astronauts on American rockets,” Bridenstine said.
According to SpaceX and NASA, the first quarter of 2020 is a realistic target for SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. But this timeline will hold only if things go according to plan, Bridenstine stressed.
The test flight will carry two NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the ISS. The capsule will carry astronauts to the space station for the first time since America’s space shuttle program ended in 2011.
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Musk said that safety is paramount and the launch might be delayed without hesitation if any problems arise.
“If everything goes according to plan, it would be in the first quarter of next year,” Bridenstine said of the launch. “But remember—and this is the important thing that we have to get right on messaging—there are still things that we can learn or could learn that could be challenging that we have to resolve.
“I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I don’t know. That’s why we test.”
SpaceX has had some issues with the capsule’s parachute system and the propulsion system.
SpaceX has decided to switch to from a “Mark 2” parachute design to the “Mark 3,” which has much stronger lines and a better load-distributing stitching pattern, Musk said. The Mark 3 still needs to be fully tested and certified, and that work will ramp up soon as well.
“It’s a pretty arduous engineering job to get the parachutes right,” Musk said.
“Parachutes, they look easy but they are definitely not easy,” he added. “We want to get at least something on the order of 10 successful tests in a row before launching astronauts.”
Since retiring its space shuttle program in July 2011, American astronauts have had to rely solely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get to and from the space station at a cost of $85 million a seat. NASA is now counting on SpaceX and Boeing.
Boeing is currently gearing up for a big milestone of its own. Starliner’s first uncrewed test flight to the ISS is targeted for mid-December.