SpaceX is set for its first orbital test flight of Crew Dragon. The private company has moved its Dragon Spaceship to the launch pad.

SpaceX has raised a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in Florida Thursday (Jan. 3). It’s been eight years since the last space shuttle launched from the same pad.

So, scientists have scheduled the test flight for NASA to happen on Jan. 17. However, the ongoing partial government shutdown may delay it.

SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk in a tweet on January 5 wrote: “About a month away from the first orbital test flight of crew Dragon.” A later timeline could place the Crew Dragon demonstration flight, called “Demo-1,” in early February, though no official schedule change has been announced.

The company will first have to go through a series of fit checks. If everything goes fine then it will be ready to take off for its first orbital test flight.

If the uncrewed test flight goes well, SpaceX will launch its first crewed flight. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be a part of it.

SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon and its Falcon 9 rocket stand atop Launch Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida ahead of an uncrewed test flight scheduled for January 2019. Credit: SpaceX

Crew Dragon Spaceship

The new Crew Dragon spaceship is a crewed version of the company’s robotic Dragon cargo ships. They have been flying since 2010, with NASA resupply missions beginning in 2012.

A look at SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon spacecraft attached to its Falcon 9 rocket as both sit inside their hangar at Launch Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida in January 2019. Credit: SpaceX

Engineers designed the spacecraft to fly up to seven astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. It will use parachutes to splash down in the ocean, also like the uncrewed Dragon.

What’s even more interesting is that SpaceX is also developing a larger crewed spacecraft. The company calls it Starship and it is a part of its effort to eventually fly people to Mars.

That reusable spacecraft will be able to carry about 100 people on deep-space flights and will launch on a massive rocket (called the Super Heavy) which engineers also designed it to be reusable, Musk has said.

SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This has challenged American aerospace companies to create innovative methods of shuttling astronauts to and from the ISS.

A successful crewed mission would restore American launch capabilities and end NASA’s dependence on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for transporting its personnel.

The Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX is one of two companies contracted by NASA to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station under the agency’s Commercial Crew program. The other company is Boeing, which has its own crewed ship for NASA, called the CST-100 Starliner. Scientists have scheduled it to make an uncrewed test flight in March, with crewed flight later this year.

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Thumbnail image: A crew access arm reaches toward SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon spacecraft atop its Falcon 9 rocket on Launch Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 3, 2019 ahead of an uncrewed test flight. Credit: SpaceX