Emerging Tech

SpaceX reportedly eyeing May 2020 for first crewed flight of its spacecraft

SpaceX is reportedly looking at May this year for the first crewed demonstration flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Although May 2020 is the current target date, the so-called “Demo-2” crewed flight could possibly slip to June, or take place as early as April, according to Ars Technica.

A successful crewed demo flight of the seven-seat spacecraft would be a major step forward for SpaceX’s near-term goal of using the Crew Dragon to transport astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS), ending U.S. reliance on Russia’s Soyuz program and enabling NASA to transport astronauts into space from American soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

SpaceX’s successful in-flight escape test in January 2020 topped off a series of critical assessments and evaluations of the Crew Dragon that also included a crewless flight by the spacecraft to and from the ISS in March 2019.

But not everything has gone according to plan. The need for rigorous testing was highlighted in April 2019 when a Crew Dragon exploded during a ground-based test of its SuperDraco engines, which are designed to carry the spacecraft away from the rocket in the event of a serious anomaly during launch.

At the end of last year, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted a short video (below) simulating how the maiden crewed mission might look, with the craft carried to space using the company’s reusable rocket system. Besides returning the capsule with the astronauts inside, the system also recovers the main rocket booster, which lands back on Earth, and the rocket faring, which is supposed to be caught by a waiting ship with an enormous net (though the maneuver is proving tricky for SpaceX).

NASA is also working with Boeing to build a spacecraft similar to the Crew Dragon. But Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner has been dealing with an array of issues affecting its usability. A test flight in December 2019, which was supposed to see the Starliner dock with the ISS for the first time, ended in failure after a software problem prevented it from entering the correct orbit to take it to the space station. Several other issues with the December mission have since emerged, forcing Boeing to reexamine the spacecraft’s key systems.

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