NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited SpaceX’s California rocket factory Thursday, toured the sprawling facility with founder Elon Musk and told reporters he is optimistic the company will be ready to launch the first piloted test flight of its Crew Dragon spaceship in the first quarter of next year.
Images taken inside SpaceX facilities at Cape Canaveral and released by NASA Thursday show the Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 booster assigned to an in-flight abort test of the new human-rated spaceship later this year, a prerequisite before astronauts climb aboard for a mission to the International Space Station.
Investigators believe a leak of propellant inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s propulsion system led to the capsule’s explosion April 20 during a ground test at Cape Canaveral, and a senior SpaceX official said Monday that delays are making it “increasingly difficult” to fly astronauts on the commercial spaceship before the end of the year.
While recovery teams continue combing through the test site at Cape Canaveral where SpaceX’s first space-worthy Crew Dragon capsule was destroyed in an explosive accident last month, engineers a few miles away are pressing ahead with the company’s 17th resupply mission to the International Space Station set for launch early Friday.
NASA and SpaceX officials have said little this week about the apparent explosion of a Crew Dragon capsule Saturday during a ground test at Cape Canaveral, and members of a safety advisory panel said Thursday they will be patient as investigators review high-speed imagery, telemetry data and wreckage to determine the cause of the accident.
Singed and blackened from three fiery trips to the edge of space and back, a Falcon 9 rocket returned to Cape Canaveral on Sunday after a mission last that week carried the Israeli Beresheet moon lander into orbit, ready for inspections before attempting a fourth — and likely final — launch this spring.