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SpaceX's manned Dragon/Falcon 9 combo passes milestone safety review


November 20, 2013

Dragon spacecraft in orbit during CRS-2 cargo mission to the ISS (Photo: SpaceX)

Dragon spacecraft in orbit during CRS-2 cargo mission to the ISS (Photo: SpaceX)

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SpaceX has made progress toward an initial crewed flight in 2015 after a "milestone" safety review for manned space operations of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

SpaceX already has flown several Dragon/Falcon 9 cargo missions to the space station, successfully demonstrating the basic orbital flight and maneuvering capabilities. Now, as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, SpaceX is immersed in the design and engineering evolution required to produce an integrated crew-capable Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft.

The crew-rated versions of the Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 launch vehicle would support government and commercial access to low earth orbit (LEO). This combination is considered a lead candidate for the Request for Proposals just issued by NASA's Commercial Crew Program for the first manned ISS support missions, tentatively scheduled to take place in fully certified spacecraft no later than 2017.

In late October, a team of NASA engineers visited SpaceX headquarters for two days, during which the company's safety practices were reviewed in detail. NASA is providing safety engineering assistance to SpaceX to insure that new and innovative technologies will satisfy the rigorous conditions of space travel.

“We greatly appreciate NASA’s support and feedback throughout this process,” said Garrett Reisman, commercial crew project manager at SpaceX and a former astronaut. "Together we are taking all the necessary steps to make Dragon the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown."

The next flight tests for the manned Dragon/Falcon 9 system will be a pair of abort tests to be carried out in 2014. The first test will simulate an abort from the launch pad, requiring the Dragon abort system to lift a mock-up capsule clear of a simulated emergency situation. The second test will require the Dragon capsule to separate from a Falcon 9 booster in flight, then parachute safely into the Atlantic Ocean.

At present, SpaceX is right on schedule to meet its NASA contractual milestones under the CCiCap initiative and the team may well be the one to return Americans to space with the first US post-Shuttle manned orbital launch.

Source: NASA

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

This is great but why does it take so damn long? It already passed the safety review, why does it have to take to 2015 to make the intial flight? This is good progress but too slow, taking the whole year to do two abort tests. I want to be alive to see us going to Mars, but at this rate, it's going to take forever.

Johnny Le

Very encouraging. It will be nice when the USA is a space faring nation once again instead of depending on foreigners to take us up there. If we can do it more safely and cheaply than anyone else, that will be icing on the cake. :-) Way to go SpaceX!!

Rustin Haase

I'm glad to see my tax dollars (NASA advice) doing something I approve of.

If I owned Space X I would "cut the cord" with govt. as soon as feasible. A remote base, well away from govt. regulation would be a primary goal.

But if I had a choice between commercial space flight and building an orbiting city I would choose the city, starting with a space elevator.

Don Duncan

I want to be alive to see us going to Mars, but at this rate, it's going to take forever. ========= = Nasa has blown 40 years and $500 billion since Apollo, while GOING BACKWARD.. leaving itself incompetent/incapable of crewing or even resupplying our own space station...

You should be thankful that private enterprise SpaceX is saving the US manned space program from more lost decades of big govt Federal Agency incompetence, pork, waste, stupidity.

Warren White
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