SpaceX Crew Dragon Gets a Date for Its First Test Launch From NASA

The timeline for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has been pushed back ever-so-slightly. NASA announced on Wednesday that the uncrewed test flight for the vessel that could soon begin carrying astronauts into space will take place on March 2 instead of the previously targeted February 23 launch date.

The space agency says the change in schedule is meant to allow for the finalization of hardware testing and last-minute data reviews. This would be the first of two uncrewed test flights Elon Musk’s aerospace company has to complete before its first crewed launch, which is set for no earlier than July 2019.

Here is NASA’s reviewed schedule after Wednesday’s announcement:

Test flight planning dates:

  • SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): March 2, 2019
  • SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test: June 2019
  • SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): July 2019

This news comes more than a week after SpaceX announced it had completed a static test fire for the Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon attached, as seen in the video above. The test fire was completed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at launch pad 39A, the same site that’s slated for the the Demo-1 launch.

spacex falcon 9 crew dragon static fire test.
Falcon 9 carrying Crew Dragon during its static fire test.

Testing the launch sequence and the capsule’s safety is part of a larger mission to send American astronauts to the International Space Station from the United States using US-based companies as contractors. NASA shuttered its space shuttle program in 2011 and astronauts have since been ferried to the ISS by Russian Soyuz rockets. That could change if the Demo-1 flight goes off without a hitch.

SpaceX also has the added pressure of competition from aerospace giant Boeing, who is developing their own space capsule named the CST-100 Starliner. It’s also in the running for contracts to begin one day transporting astronauts to the ISS in the future.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon.

As it stands, Boeing’s first crewed test flight is scheduled for no earlier than August 2019, a month after SpaceX’s. However, this could be shuffled around since SpaceX needs to complete a flight abort test before its Demo-2 crewed mission. Staying on schedule will hinge on Musk’s company being able to prepare the Crew Dragon to carry astronauts within a month of its previous test.

Media via NASA, SpaceX/Twitter, SpaceX