Five-and-a-half years ago, SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, a sleek-looking human-rated spaceship with 3D-printed engines, a roomy stylized interior and touchscreen controls. Now SpaceX’s first ship to ferry astronauts — with numerous design changes introduced since 2014 — is about to leave the company’s factory for final testing before launching early next year.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said this week the space agency is not unduly delaying the debut of new SpaceX and Boeing commercial crew capsules as engineers gear up for a challenging rapid-fire sequence of test flights in the next few months, all against the backdrop of in-depth safety reviews before clearing the privately-owned ships to carry astronauts.
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.