NASA Approves SpaceX Commercial Crew Test Flight for March 2

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Although Lueders and the other NASA officials are comfortable with the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for this test flight, there are still some issues they want to close out before astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launch into space on an identical rocket and capsule. "It's great that we're getting ready to go do this".

A second manned mission, named Demo-2, is targeted to launch in July of 2019. The 27-foot long Crew Dragon will dock with the space station at 5.55 am the following day. The Crew Dragon doesn't have this function.

"That's the basic concern the Russians brought up, why isn't there a separate system or separate box to go provide this backup capability?"

During the same press briefing, William Gerstenmaier, the NASA associate administrator, explained that Russia's concerns were related to the United States agency's lack of a backup computer system to prevent Crew Dragon from colliding with the ISS if the vehicle goes dead.

Gerstenmaier said such technical issues are not unusual in the development of human-rated spacecraft and going into the Demo 1 mission, "we haven't set the total envelope of where some of the hardware can operate and how it can be used" during piloted flights. The private company had to overhaul its cargo capsule for astronauts.

An artist’s impression of a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on final approach to the International Space Station
An artist’s impression of a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on final approach to the International Space Station

The mission will also be the first time a commercially built and operated American rocket and spacecraft designed for humans will launch to the space station. That mission is scheduled for June, according to a NASA schedule released in early February, but SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Twitter Feb. 21 that the mission could take place in April, using the same Falcon 9 first stage that just launched the Nusantara Satu communications satellite and two secondary payloads.

If those flights go well, operational US crew rotation flights could begin before the end of the year.

The current schedule calls for a launch at 2:48 a.m.

Nasa awarded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co. a combined US$6.8 billion in September 2014 to revive the US's ability to fly to the space station without buying seats on Russian capsules.

When Boeing or SpaceX launch NASA astronauts it will mark the first time an American has launched to low Earth orbit from US soil since 2011.

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