SpaceX gets Crew Dragon back on track with successful static fire test
When SpaceX docked its Crew Dragon capsule with the International Space Station back in March and safely returned it to Earth, a plan to restore human spaceflight capabilities to US soil appeared well on track. A launchpad disaster during testing in April changed that, but the company is now in the process of correcting course with successful new engine test under its belt.
The exact timeline surrounding SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule has rarely, if ever, been set in stone. Since 2014, the spacecraft has been developed and tested as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program alongside Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, in hopes of using US-built spacecraft to deliver astronauts to the ISS for the first time since the Space Shuttle program was discontinued in 2011.
It is based on SpaceX's Dragon capsule, a spacecraft which has been ferrying cargo to and from the International Space Station since 2012, but modified for human travel. Before anyone hops inside and heads for orbit, however, the company needs to prove that it is safe, and is therefore putting it through a string of rigorous test exercises to ensure it can do the job.
Last year with things going swimmingly, SpaceX had targeted June of 2019 for its first manned flights. This was then pushed back to July, and is now an unknown following the April explosion. That incident, the result of a leaky component, took place during a static fire test of the Crew Dragon's Draco thrusters, which serve as abort rockets to blast the vehicle clear of the launchpad in the case of an emergency.
These will be tested out again before the Crew Dragon takes flight with people onboard, but SpaceX has kept the ball rolling with the first static fire tests of the very Falcon 9 rocket that is slated to lift it into space on its first manned mission. Again, when exactly that will take place is unclear, but this successful test is a significant step forward, as noted by NASA astronaut Bob Behnken who is poised to become the first person to ride the Crew Dragon alongside colleague Doug Hurley.
For all the incredible feats SpaceX has pulled off with its rockets, this particular model, if successful, will be the first to ever fire astronauts into space.