NASA’s Commercial Crew Program On The Verge Of Making History

Image Credit: NASA

February 27, 2019 – SpaceX is set to launch its Crew Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket, the first launch of a space system designed for humans built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership, on a flight test to the International Space Station (ISS) at 12:49 a.m. MST on Saturday, March 2.

Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing are predicting an 80 percent chance of favorable weather. Weak high pressure in advance of a front moving southeast into the area is expected during the launch window with a low probability for rain and weak surface winds and only slight concerns of any cumulus cloud or thick cloud rule violations during the instantaneous launch window.

The flight is an important step in returning human launches on American rockets and spacecraft to low-Earth orbit since the final space shuttle mission in 2011.

In September 2014, NASA announced the selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station. By allowing industry to provide transportation services to the space station, the agency can concentrate on developing emerging technologies for exploring distant destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit such as the Moon and Mars.

The mission objectives for this flight test, referred to as Demo-1, are to demonstrate end-to-end operations performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations. Systems under review include on-orbit operation of the Crew Dragon’s avionics system, docking system, communications/telemetry systems, environmental control systems, solar arrays and electrical power systems and the propulsion systems. The test flight will demonstrate performance of the guidance, navigation and control systems of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon through ascent, on-orbit, and entry.

Following the flight, teams will assess acoustic and vibration levels, and loads across the Crew Dragon exterior and interior.

The flight test will provide valuable data NASA will review as part of the process to certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system is as safe as possible for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.

SpaceX’s first crewed flight, Demo-2, will fully demonstrate the company’s ability to safely fly NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station. Behnken and Hurley have each flown two space shuttle missions

In the near future, the uncrewed, opening act for Boeing’s Starliner, known as its Orbital Flight Test, will demonstrate the human transportation capabilities in advance of certification to fly astronauts to space. The first flight with crew aboard a Starliner, the Crew Flight Test, will fully demonstrate Boeing’s ability to fly humans safely to and from the International Space Station. Onboard will be NASA astronaut Mike Finke, a veteran of three spaceflights; NASA astronaut Nicole Mann; and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, who previously led Starliner’s Crew and Mission Systems and flew three space shuttle missions. The CST-100 Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.