NASA, SpaceX aim for March test of 1st new astronaut capsule

NASA, SpaceX aim for March test of 1st new astronaut capsule

NASA announced this morning that the company is targeting March 2 for an uncrewed first flight of its Dragon crew capsule.

NASA and SpaceX are now aiming for a March debut of the first capsule from a private company created to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA and its Commercial Crew Program providers Boeing and SpaceX have agreed to move the target launch dates for the upcoming inaugural test flights of their next generation American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station.

Boeing, meanwhile, is targeting no earlier than April for its first launch of a Starliner crew capsule from Cape Canaveral, also without a crew. There are two crewed flights planned for each, one for testing purposes and the other an actual mission.

The Crew Dragon, which is created to take astronauts to the ISS, will need to undergo its first uncrewed test flight before next steps.

More time is still needed to complete testing, training and safety reviews, according to NASA.

The uncrewed test flights will be the first time commercially-built and operated American spacecraft designed for humans will dock to the space station. "We always learn from tests".

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NASA is paying SpaceX and Boeing to provide the capsules and fly astronauts to and from the space station, allowing the space agency to focus on developing a new capsule, Orion, and rocket, Space Launch System or SLS, for transporting astronauts to the moon and, eventually, Mars.

NASA's commercial crew program has been delayed repeatedly over the years, forcing a lengthy, expensive reliance on Russian rockets.

If schedules hold, the crewed launches this summer will be the first to take off from US soil carrying humans to low-Earth orbit since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. "NASA has been working together with SpaceX and Boeing to make sure we are ready to conduct these test flights and get ready to learn critical information that will further help us to fly our crews safely".

Blue Origin is also developing a crew capsule that might carry passengers by year's end. Both craft will then have to perform abort tests and a test mission with crew aboard.

Boeing plans to follow the unpiloted test flight with a launch pad abort test in the June timeframe.

Astronauts haven't been launched from the United States since the shuttering of NASA's longstanding shuttle program in 2011.

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