Musk Says Crew Dragon Tests Will be Done in About 10 Weeks

Musk Says Crew Dragon Tests Will be Done in About 10 Weeks

Elon Musk tweeted today that he expects tests of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket to be completed in about 10 weeks.  That would mean the crewed test flight, Demo-2, might take place before the end of the year or early in 2020.  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will visit SpaceX headquarters on Thursday to see how the program is progressing for himself after recently complaining about schedule delays.

NASA is very anxious for the SpaceX and Boeing commercial crew systems to start flying and end U.S. dependence on Russia for ferrying crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS).  NASA pays Russia for crew transportation services.  The last Soyuz spacecraft on which it has a seat will launch in March.

ISS program manager Kirk Shireman said on Friday the agency is trying to maintain a balance between the need to get the U.S. systems flying, but avoid putting undue schedule pressure on the companies that could negatively impact safety.  The agency is looking at options in case there are further delays.

Bridenstine expressed frustration with SpaceX on September 27.  Musk, who is the founder, CEO and lead designer of SpaceX, was about to give a briefing on his Starship program that is developing a different vehicle to take people to the Moon and Mars.  Bridenstine tweeted that “commercial crew is behind schedule” and “NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayers.  It is time to deliver.”

The tweet caught many by surprise since Boeing’s Starliner system is further behind than SpaceX, and NASA’s own Space Launch System (SLS) is years behind schedule.

During an interview with CNN after his Starship briefing, Musk parried by asking if Bridenstine meant commercial crew or SLS.  He had said during the briefing that his company is devoting only about 5 percent of its resources to Starship whereas Crew Dragon/Falcon 9 are its top priorities.

The two now appear to be finding common ground.  Bridenstine tweeted on October 3 that he had had a good conversation with Musk and will visit SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA on Thursday.  A media availability will take place afterwards. Bridenstine will livestream it on his Twitter feed (@JimBridenstine).

Today, Musk sent three tweets conveying optimism about the schedule.  He expects all tests to be completed in about 10 weeks, which would be mid-December.  That includes the In Flight Abort (IFA) test that has been delayed since an accident in April.  He now anticipates it taking place in late November or early December.

The IFA is the last major test that needs to take place before astronauts can fly on Crew Dragon.  It will demonstrate that the Crew Dragon spacecraft can separate from the booster and land safely if anything goes awry during the launch.  Two NASA astronauts will make the Demo-2 flight: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.  They will participate in the media availability with Musk and Bridenstine on Thursday.

SpaceX and Boeing each must conduct an uncrewed test flight and then a crewed test flight of their systems before they are certified for operational use.  SpaceX completed its uncrewed flight test, Demo-1, in March.

Boeing has not flown either and also must do an abort test. At a meeting of the National Academy of Engineering yesterday, Boeing’s Chris Ferguson said the abort test is expected to take place next month at White Sands, NM.  Ferguson is a former NASA astronaut who now works for Boeing and will command the Boeing Starliner crewed flight test (two NASA astronauts also will be aboard).  He did not give dates for that or the uncrewed test flight, which comes first.  He said only that the latter will be in the near future.

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