Illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, targeted for January 2019. Credits: SpaceX
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – NASA and SpaceX announced January 7, 2019 as the targeted launch date for the first unpiloted test flight of the commercial Crew Dragon spacecraft - under development to once again ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil on American rockets to end our sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz since the forced shutdown of NASA's space shuttles in 2011.
The private SpaceX crew dragon will fly on the Demo-1 mission to the ISS and was developed under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Although no astronauts will be aboard this test flight, two crew members will soar to orbit on the follow-up Demo-2 test flight several months later in June 2019 - according to current projections.
“The launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft is targeted for Jan. 7, 2019, from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida,” NASA said in a statement.
“SpaceX’s Demo-1 uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.”
“Human spaceflight is the core mission of our company," a SpaceX spokesperson told Space UpClose in response to the Demo-1 announcement.
"There is nothing more important to SpaceX than this endeavor."
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon undergoes thermal vacuum and acoustic testing to verify flight worthiness at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio during June 2018. Credit: NASA/SpaceX
“Next year, our @CommercialCrew program returns human spaceflight to American soil! Our partners @BoeingSpace and @SpaceX are scheduled to launch two uncrewed and two crewed demo flights, beginning with the @SpaceX Crew Dragon liftoff Jan. 7, 2019,” NASA tweeted.
Demo-1 will fly in a fully automated mode with no astronauts aboard this time. It will also launch on the newest version of the Falcon 9 – the upgraded Block 5 variant which first launched in May of this year from Launch Complex 39A.
“This will be the first uncrewed test flight of the Commercial Crew Program and will provide data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as on-orbit, docking and landing operations,” said NASA.
“The flight test also will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.”
SpaceX will launch the Crew Dragon in Jan 2019 from KSC Launch Complex 39A atop the upgraded Block 5 version of their Falcon 9 rocket - see here in its maiden launch in May 2018. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com
The Falcon 9 Demo-1 liftoff is tracking for approximately 11:57 p.m. EST.
Crew Dragon will dock at the forward facing port on the Harmony module where NASA’s space shuttles previously docked. The docking port has been outfitted with a specially designed new adapter to accommodate the commercial crew vehicles from SpaceX and Boeing – known as IDA-2 or International Docking Adapter-2.
IDA-2 was previously launched to the space station inside the unpressurized trunk section of the SpaceX cargo Dragon and installed by station crew members using the Canadian build Canadarm-2.
The International Space Station photographed by Expedition 56 crew members from a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking on Oct. 4, 2018. NASA astronauts Andrew Feustel and Ricky Arnold and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev executed a fly around of the orbiting laboratory to take pictures of the station before returning home after spending 197 days in space. The station will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first element Zarya in November 2018. Credit: NASA/Roscosmos
The spaceship arrived at Cape Canaveral earlier this year in July 2018 to begin a period of critical testing after years of painstaking research & development & manufacturing – thereby achieving a significant milestone on the path to flight - after multiple lengthy delays.
This inaugural SpaceX Crew Dragon arrived in Florida after shipment from NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio where the vehicle underwent rigorous thermal vacuum and acoustic testing to verify its flight worthiness ahead of its first flight.
After being manufactured at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, the Demo-1 Crew Dragon was shipped to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio for extensive testing in the facilities In-Space Propulsion Facility —"the world’s only facility capable of testing full-scale upper-stage launch vehicles and rocket engines under simulated high-altitude conditions,” says NASA.
The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is to restore America’s capability to launch human spaceflight missions from the U.S. to low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS) on American capsules with American rockets from American soil - and thereby end our 100% reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsules.
The US became solely dependent on Russia due to the forced shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttles back in 2011 when both political parties failed to provide sufficient US Federal budget funding support to NASA’s human spaceflight programs.
Target timelines for return US human spaceflight capability have been pushed back repeatedly since 2015 due to endless mindless political squabbling as well as technical challenges.
SpaceX’s next launch from Florida is slated for no earlier than Dec. 4 on the Dragon CRS-16 cargo resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).
The CRS-16 mission will fly on the initial cargo version of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.
Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist, journalist and photographer based in the KSC area.
Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events