Published: Sat, March 02, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

SpaceX set for crew demo launch

SpaceX set for crew demo launch

CAPE CANAVERAL: Eight years after the last manned U.S. space flight, NASA and SpaceX are preparing to test a new space capsule for astronauts on Saturday - although for now the only occupant will be a dummy named Ripley.

The test flight will last six days, and be real in every way - liftoff from Florida on Saturday, docking to the International Space Station (ISS) the following day.

NASA's agreement with the Russian space program Roscomos is rapidly coming to an end, and without a new agreement in place or crew-capable spacecrafts of its own, NASA astronauts would have no presence aboard the orbiting laboratory. "And I'm pretty sure it's not just me, I think everybody within SpaceX feels this and wants to get this right".

Now, Elon Musk's SpaceX is readying for the test of a lifetime with the test launch of its new crew capsule. But the Dragon capsule won't carry humans, rather a test dummy-named Ripley after the tough heroine in the "Alien" films-in the same white SpaceX spacesuit that astronauts will wear. They'll use the Crew Access Arm, which provides a bridge to the spacecraft from the crew access tower at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A.

The Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) mission will cost $42 million and is planned to launch in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS), the United States space agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

The commercial space company will be performing its first test flight with its crew module on board.

Ripley dummy astronaut
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While Saturday's SpaceX test mission is a crucial step in the long-delayed project, there are questions about whether NASA can achieve its 2019 flight goal. The Roadster launched on top of the first successfully launched Falcon Heavy rocket last February.

According to the latest update from the meteorologists at the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing, there is an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for Saturday morning's launch window.

NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co $6.8 billion to build competing rocket and capsule systems to launch astronauts into orbit from American soil for the first time since the U.S. Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011.

After a five-day stay, the spacecraft will undock next Friday, March 8, plunging back into the atmosphere for a parachute descent to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean about 230 miles east of Cape Canaveral.

"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", Kathy Lueders, manager of the commercial crew program, said in a news release.

Boeing, which is also providing crew transport for NASA, is scheduled to do its first uncrewed demo launch of its Starliner capsule in April.

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