2019 Tech Predictions: SpaceX Completes a Manned Crew Dragon Test

It's the big next step for spaceflight.

SpaceX could be on the verge of making history. The company is set to start tests of its Crew Dragon capsule, designed to send humans into space, and it could be the first time that American astronauts have been sent into space on a commercial craft. Inverse predicts that SpaceX will complete the first test flight of its capsule, setting the stage for even bigger missions.

The capsule is set to play a pivotal role in space flight. After NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011, the agency turned to Russia’s Soyuz rocket to continue ferrying its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. That contract is expected to expire in April, leaving commercial space firms to plug the gap. SpaceX is in competition with Boeing, which has designed the CST-100 Starliner for the same purpose. As well as bringing the technology back to the United States, the agreement would also save on the $81 million cost of each Soyuz seat.

We’re reporting on 19 predictions for 2019. This is #13.

In November, a breakthrough: NASA released a schedule that claimed SpaceX would host an uncrewed test of the capsule for January 2019. The capsule would be sent up on a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at Launch Complex 39A. It would be followed by a crewed flight in June 2019. Boeing, on the other hand, is set for an uncrewed test in March 2019, followed by a crewed flight in August 2019.

The first operational mission is scheduled for August 2019, and the second for December 2019.

Crouching Tiger Crew Dragon

SpaceX has missed Crew Dragon deadlines before. The company originally planned for a late 2017 launch, but the company then pushed back to an unmanned mission in November 2017 and a manned mission in late 2018.

“The Crew Dragon has suffered from multiple delays, but it seems like a test flight is finally imminent,” William Ostrove, aerospace and defense analyst for Forecast International, tells Inverse. “The spacecraft recently arrived at Kennedy Space Center to be prepped for a January launch, so it’s likely that a launch will occur early in 2019.”

A successful launch would help kickstart a new era for spaceflight. With private companies underpinning its missions, NASA can ensure a better continuation of service.

“This launch will be significant for SpaceX and NASA,” Ostrove says. “Both have been working for a long time to develop the Crew Dragon (Boeing is working on a crew capsule also, but they are a few months behind SpaceX). The test launch will not include human crewmembers. But it will pave the way for a test flight that does include astronauts later in 2019, and eventually for operational flights to the International Space Station.”

A launch would also send positive messages around the company’s bigger goals, like a manned trip around the moon in 2023 and a manned mission to Mars as early as 2024.

Dragged Out

One reason to believe the Crew Dragon may not make its new deadline is the fact that NASA’s own administrator thinks the flight will be delayed. Jim Brindenstein told reporters at the end of November that there was a “very low probability” that SpaceX’s test flight would take place in January, adding that the issue was determining “what configuration are we willing to accept as an agency and are we willing to waive certain items (and) how do we test those items.” However, he remained confident that the flight “will certainly be in the first half of 2019.” Following the event, NASA pushed the test flight back from January 7 to January 17.

19 Predictions for 2019: What Inverse Thinks

While SpaceX has a history of missing deadlines, the pieces are falling into place for the company to complete its first tests alongside Boeing. Inverse predicts the company will complete a test flight.

Related video: SpaceX Crew Dragon Runs Flight Abort Test

Media via SpaceX