First Crew Dragon Demo On Track for Late-Night Launch March 2

Image Credit: NASA

It has been nearly a month since SpaceX conducted a Static Test Fire of the Falcon 9 rocket which will launch the first Crew Dragon, and today NASA provided some more details about the upcoming launch, Demo-1, which will send the spacecraft on an uncrewed orbital shakedown & validation flight test to and from the International Space Station.

Launch of the highly anticipated mission from Kennedy Space Center launch complex 39A in Florida is scheduled for 2:48am EST on Saturday, March 2.

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That said, if the weather and schedule holds, the launch will make for a spectacular sight visible not only across much of Florida, but up a good portion of the East Coast too.

Last month’s test fire marked a significant event in that it was the first time a crewed vehicle and ground systems were integrated together on pad 39A since space shuttle Atlantis last soared on the STS-135 mission almost 8 years ago.

The stakes are high. NASA’s need to end America’s reliance on Russia and have a homegrown crewed capability again is already years behind, and SpaceX and Boeing are competing for truly historic bragging rights to be the first to do it.

If all goes well for SpaceX on DM-1, it will clear the way to launching America’s first astronauts from U.S soil since Atlantis, later this year on Demo-2 (DM-2) mission.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon undergoing testing atop its Falcon 9 rocket on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo: SpaceX

DM-1 will provide key data on the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon’s performance, the supporting ground systems, as well as on-orbit, docking and landing operations, ahead of the first Crew Dragon flight test with astronauts on DM-2.

“The uncrewed flight tests are a great dry run for not only our hardware, but for our team to get ready for our crewed flight tests,” said Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager. “NASA has been working together with SpaceX and Boeing to make sure we are ready to conduct these test flights and get ready to learn critical information that will further help us to fly our crews safely. We always learn from tests.”

About 10 minutes after launch, Crew Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit, and is scheduled to dock to the ISS on Sunday, March 3 at 5:55 a.m. EST with about 400 pounds of crew supplies and equipment.

It will spend about five days attached to the ISS and remain until March 8, when it will then return to Earth with critical research samples. About five hours after Dragon leaves the station, it will conduct its deorbit burn, which lasts up to 10 minutes. It takes about 30 minutes for Dragon to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. 

SpaceX has since 2012 launched cargo for NASA to and from the ISS under contract for the agency’s Commercial Resupply Services. In September 2014 NASA awarded a $2.6 billion Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract to SpaceX to demonstrate delivery of crew to and from ISS.

Both commercial resupply and crew are part of NASA’s efforts beginning in the early 2000’s to stimulate development of privately built and operated American-made space vehicles for transporting astronauts to and from the ISS.

The last crew to launch off U.S. soil, Atlantis STS-135. Photo Credit: Mike Killian

“We still have more work to do as the certification process, hardware development and readiness reviews continue,” said Lueders. “The key readiness reviews along with NASA’s continued analysis of hardware and software testing and certification data must be closed out prior to launch. The upcoming steps before the test missions are critical, and their importance can’t be understated. We are not driven by dates, but by data.”

SpaceX will also need to demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ascent abort capability – an ejection of sorts aborting a crew away from a failing rocket – before NASA will put astronauts onboard. That is currently tracking towards launch this spring.

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