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article imageCrew Dragon arrives at Cape Canaveral for first test flight

By Karen Graham     Jul 14, 2018 in Technology
Under development and testing for years, the SpaceX Crew Dragon space capsule that will carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station arrived in Florida late this week.
After arriving at Cape Canaveral Thursday, the Dragon will undergo further testing in readiness for its first test flight, which could take place in August, according to the company.
With an internal work-to launch readiness date of August 31, 2018, it is now likely that the International Space Station’s crew rotation and Visiting Vehicle schedule over the next few months will be the primary driver for the flight’s eventual launch from the Florida Spaceport.
And added to the preparations for an August Demonstration Mission-1 (DM-1), is the GAO report issued Thursday that said there would be delays in NASA certification. With the contract NASA has with Russia to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station due to expire in November 2019, it is all the more critical that the U.S. is prepared with their own transportation.
The Crew Dragon completed testing at NASA's Plum Brook Station in Ohio. The In-Space Propulsion Facility is the world’s only facility capable of testing full-scale upper-stage launch vehicles and rocket engines under simulated high-altitude conditions.
The chamber was used to verify Crew Dragon’s ability to withstand the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space.
"It's been undergoing thermal vacuum testing there to ensure that Dragon can withstand the extreme thermal environments and vacuum environments that it will see in space," SpaceX's director of Dragon mission management, Jessica Jensen, said during a briefing at Kennedy Space Center late last month, according to Florida Today.
SpaceX s first Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket rolls to its launch pad at NASA s Kennedy Space Center in Flo...
SpaceX's first Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket rolls to its launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in May, 2018.
One step closer to launch
With Crew Dragon being moved to the NASA launch site, this means the crew capsule tests at Plum Brook went well and no major issues were found that would halt further preparation and testing for the launch.
Depending on how the first DM-1 in August goes and withstanding any issues popping up thereafter, SpaceX is targeting late this year or early next year for a crewed test flight to the ISS.
The ability to launch astronauts to the ISS on more than one spacecraft was lost on July 20, 2011, with the landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis and the retirement of NASA’s Shuttle fleet.
Kirk Shireman, manager of NASA's ISS program, said during a press conference last month that exact dates have not been set for the test missions for either SpaceX or Boeing. “We’re evaluating exactly when opportunities might be and when they’ll be ready, but we’re not ready to set a date at this point in time."
This is an an artist s conception of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner.
This is an an artist's conception of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner.
NASA - Photo ID: KSC-2011-8114.
Shireman also noted that launch dates also have to align with station operations, company schedules and NASA requirements. "We have not agreed to those dates just yet." However, on Friday, NASA said an internal work-to launch readiness date of August 31, 2018, had been set.
With the first Crew Dragon now safely at the Cape, the next major visual milestone will be the delivery of the Falcon 9 Block 5 booster that will launch the mission. We won't have too long to wait.
Boeing must go through the same rigorous tests
SpaceX won't be the only company in line to ferry astronauts into space. Boeing is also working on its Starliner crew capsule and is expected to go through the same testing the Crew Dragon is going through.
Hopefully, both companies will pass all the tests with flying colors, giving U.S. astronauts steady access to the space station. But if something goes wrong and the companies' time lines are delayed further, NASA astronauts may be left without a ride to work.
More about Spacex, Crew Dragon, NASA, Boeing, Demonstration Mission 1
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