Published: Tue, February 26, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

NASA gives go-ahead for SpaceX commercial crew test flight

NASA gives go-ahead for SpaceX commercial crew test flight

After much delays, NASA has given the green light to Elon Musk-owned SpaceX's Crew Dragon to launch its first unmanned test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 2, the United States space agency said. The capsule, designed for crew, will have no one aboard except a SpaceX dummy. The launch will take place on March 2, and the spacecraft will launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:48 a.m. EST.

Officials gave the green light Friday after conducting a safety review.

"So this is an absolutely critical first step that we do as we move towards eventually returning crew launch capability back here to the U.S".

The flight plan calls for the Demo-1 Crew Dragon to stay at the orbiting lab for just under a week, undocking on March 8 and aiming for a splashdown in the Atlantic off Florida.

"Human spaceflight is basically the core mission of SpaceX so we are really excited to do this", said Hans Koenigsmann, the company's vice president of mission assurance.

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On the heels of last week's successful reflight of a SpaceX rocket that returned to Port Canaveral Sunday, it will be a brand new Falcon 9 flying this weekend.

NASA has awarded SpaceX $2.6 billion, and aerospace rival Boeing Co $4.2 billion to build separate rocket and capsule launch systems to carry US astronauts to and from the space station, an orbital research laboratory that flies 250 miles (402 km) above Earth.

If all goes well, two NASA astronauts hope to take off aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft on the first piloted test flight in July. Officials stressed much work remains to be done, with problems possibly solved through redesign, before the capsule is qualified to carry humans. That arrangement was costing NASA tens of millions of dollars per seat, according to the Associated Press. Anticipating potential weather or technical issues, SpaceX should have three opportunities to launch between March 2 and March 9, but if it misses this window it's not clear when the company would have another attempt. In NASA's statement, the agency outlined the safety precautions it would be taking for each mission.

Boeing is also in the commercial race to transport space station astronauts.

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