NASA, SpaceX approve test flight next week of crew capsule

NASA warns SpaceX and Boeing about design and safety concerns with their astronaut launch systems

SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft mounted on Falcon 9 rocket. Image SpaceX

After a flight readiness review Friday, NASA and SpaceX have made a decision to proceed with plans to conduct Demo-1, the first uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The flight, called Demonstration Mission-1 or DM-1, will be launched at 2.48 a.m. on March 2 from NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Officials gave the green light after conducting a safety review.

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William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration, said agency officials will follow up with their Russian counterparts about the safeguards that are in place in case of a failure.

"I guarantee everything will not work exactly right, and that's cool, that's exactly what we want to do", said Gerstenmaier. Radiation monitors and supplies are going up, and science samples and used equipment are coming down.

Human spaceflight is the company's core mission, said Hans Koenigsmann, a SpaceX vice-president, and for now, there's nothing more important than this endeavour. If the upcoming demo goes well, two NASA astronauts could strap in for the next test flight this summer. "We need to make sure that [Dragon] can safely go rendezvous and dock with the space station, and undock safely, and not pose a hazard to the International Space Station", said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, during a news conference.

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Gerstenmaier added that a lot of work has gone into ensuring that the capsule is safe for both the space station and the three astronauts on board.

NASA ended its space-shuttle program in 2011 and since then has relied on buying spots on Russian Soyuz rockets to send United States astronauts to the orbiting ISS. That arrangement was costing NASA tens of millions of dollars per seat, according to the Associated Press. SpaceX plans to conduct a high-altitude launch abort in April, reusing this same capsule.

Crew Dragon, also known as Dragon 2, is a reusable spacecraft designed as a successor to the Dragon space freighter.

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SpaceX crewed mission Demo-2 is now slated for July 2019 and Boeing's Starliner mission for August 2019.

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