Yesterday at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, Jim Bridenstine (the Administrator at NASA) made some announcements regarding the commercial Crew Dragon capsule. Bridenstine and SpaceX Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk, both concur that the commercial launch of U.S astronauts is a primary focus among the range of programs NASA and SpaceX have in the works.
A crewed launch won’t occur until the beginning of next year at the earliest
The initial step towards achieving a manned mission is to conduct flight tests. Bridenstine said that if plans run successfully, he’s “very confident that in the first part of next year, we will be able to launch American astronauts on American rockets”.
Musk mentioned that having faith in the adequacy of Crew Dragon’s launch system to support a crewed flight would require 10 consecutive smooth drop tests with Mark 3, the latest parachute system for the capsule. Bridenstine says that current rates suggest SpaceX could conduct up to 10 drop tests with Mark 3 over the next two and a half months.
An updated stitching design along with stronger connective lines known as “xylon”, makes the Mark 3 system a substantial upgrade from the Mark 2.
Bridenstine and Musk were sure to note that time frames for a crewed mission are not set in stone, but rather a hopeful estimate based on the way things are progressing. Bridenstine pointed out that “there are still things we could learn [with testing]” that might push the official launch date to sometime after the first quarter of 2020.
“As the NASA Administrator, I have been focused on returning to realism when it comes to costs and schedules,” tweeted Bridenstine at the end of last month. “And a lot of our programs have not been meeting costs and schedules. And this has been developing over time. And a lot of these programs are, you know, five years old, 10 years old… so what we’re trying to do is get back to a day where we have realistic costs and schedules, and so I was signaling, and I haven’t done it just to SpaceX, but to all of our contractors that we need more realism built into the development timelines.”