SpaceX is about to send its first humans into space. The company announced on Friday it has completed a static test fire for a rocket carrying its Crew Dragon capsule. The success of the firing paves the way for an unmanned test flight as early as February.
“If test flight of 🐉 goes well next month, NASA 👨🚀 👩🚀 will 🚀 to Space Station this summer!” Musk told his 24 million Twitter followers, in an emoji-laden message that he later explained was because “the youth love em.”
The static test fire took place at 4 p.m. Eastern time at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with a Falcon 9 rocket equipped with a Crew Dragon at launch pad 39A. The company plans to complete the first unmanned flight from this launch pad. Sources speaking to CBS News reporter William Harwood claim the static fire was shorter than planned, but the company’s public communications suggest it is satisfied with moving ahead to the next stage:
The capsule is part of a broader mission to send American astronauts to the International Space Station. Since NASA canceled the space shuttle program in 2011, the agency has been using Russian Soyuz rockets at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. This contract, which costs $81 million per seat, is set to expire in November 2019. SpaceX is locked in a race with Boeing, which is developing the CST-100, to develop a crew capsule to take over those missions and send the first American astronauts into space on a commercial craft.
In November, NASA announced that SpaceX would hold its uncrewed “Demo-1” flight on January 7, 2019. This has been pushed back since, and the agency’s website currently states the launch will take place no earlier than February. This will be followed by an in-flight abort test, before a “Demo-2” crewed launch in June 2019. The summer launch will see two astronauts embarking on the first Crew Dragon flight: former Marine Corps colonel Douglas Hurley, and former Air Force colonel Robert Behnken, both of which have been astronauts since 2000. Hurley and Behnken were captured trying out the controls in a November 2018 video:
Boeing is set to follow a similar trajectory. The company’s uncrewed orbital test flight is scheduled for March, followed by a pad abort test, leading up to a manned test flight in August. The test flight will include three astronauts: former Air Force test pilot Eric Boe, retired Navy captain Christopher Ferguson, and former lieutenant colonel Nicole Aunapu Mann.
As SpaceX’s latest cargo capsule returned to Earth this month, having successfully delivered 5,600 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station, the company is gearing up for its next major step in spaceflight.