NASA has confirmed that the first test flight of SpaceX’s
human-rated Crew Dragon spacecraft won’t take place in January,
announcing on Thursday that the launch would occur “no
earlier than February.” The space agency said that more time was
needed “to complete hardware testing and joint
The unscrewed test flight, named Demo-1, was originally set to
launch on Jan. 17, but SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently tweeted
that it would be pushed back by at least a few weeks. No official
date has been rescheduled.
“About a month away from the first orbital test flight of crew
Dragon,” Musk tweeted
on Jan. 5.
He added that the first flight is expected to be a challenge.
“Yes, will be extremely intense,” he wrote.
“Early flights are especially dangerous, as there’s a lot of
It’s a crucial moment for SpaceX, which received a contract
valued at $2.6 billion back in 2014 to complete the development of
its commercial crew vehicle. Boeing is also working on its own
human-rated spacecraft, called CST-100 Starliner, under a 2014
contract worth up to $4.2 billion. (Boeing hasn’t released a test
date yet for its spacecraft, but it’s bound to be close as NASA
has already announced the first few Boeing and SpaceX crews.)
NASA wants to have U.S. spacecraft available again as soon as
possible in order to reduce its dependence on the Russian Soyuz —
the only spacecraft now capable of flying humans up to the
International Space Station.
A Soyuz flight with two astronauts on board
underwent an aborted launch on Oct. 11 due to a deformed rocket
sensor, sending the crew hurtling (safely) back to Earth. Russia
quickly resolved the problem and subsequently launched the
Expedition 58 crew on Dec. 3, but the incident shows the value of
having an independent set of spacecraft to bring astronauts up to
the space station. Even if one spacecraft type is grounded,
launches may continue.
Developing new spacecraft is always difficult. But with human-rated
flight, there are additional challenges to consider. Just ask the
people behind the space shuttle, who contended with a system that
shed re-entry tiles after each flight.
Former NASA chief historian Roger Launius told Seeker that there is
no firm metric defining what a “human-rated” spacecraft is. The
Federal Aviation Administration has an objective set of rules for
aircraft, but spacecraft remain more difficult to define as
astronaut-friendly, he noted. And sometimes even the space agencies
get it wrong.
“NASA said that the shuttle was going to be safed for ‘four
nines,’ or 99.99% of the time it would be safe, and that’s
great,” Launius said. “Well, it wasn’t. They lost two
shuttles in 135 flights.”
The causes of both of NASA’s shuttle disasters are complex — so
complex that the agency took about two years to run flights again
after fatal disasters in 1986 and 2003. Investigation boards
pointed to a range of technical factors or failures in the shuttle
systems. There also were human factors; examples included rushing
launch dates, or managers deciding to “normalize deviance”
(meaning, if a small failure happens often enough without an issue,
mission managers accept that as the norm).
“[NASA] also said at one point that [the shuttle] was going to be
as safe as an airline, which it never approached even close to,”
Launius added. “Two airplane crashes out of 100 flights would be
unacceptable in the aviation world.”
An infinite amount of money to spend on spacecraft development
might help ensure human safety, but that’s not possible. So space
agencies and their spacecraft manufacturers must make clever
calculations: running statistics to see how often components will
fail, testing as many individual components as possible, and
implementing redundant systems, among many other measures.
NASA is working very closely with SpaceX to ensure that the
contractor is doing everything possible to meet safety and
reliability for astronauts in order to reliably transport
astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Failure
isn’t an option.
“It’s one thing to lose a payload that isn’t alive,”
Launius remarked, “but it’s another thing to lose
While NASA and SpaceX have expressed hope that a human crew might
fly in 2019, Launius suggested that the safety checks could likely
push a crewed launch date back further.
“I could see this thing stretching out for a year or more,” he
Source: FS – All – Science – News 2
The space agency confirmed the delay after Elon Musk tweeted that it was "about a month away."