Jan 21, 2020

SpaceX test paves the way for first crewed flights to space station

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching with a Crew Dragon atop. Photo: NASA TV/SpaceX

SpaceX completed a major test on Sunday, paving the way for the company's first crewed launch to the International Space Station. According to founder Elon Musk, SpaceX could launch its first astronauts for NASA by the second quarter of this year.

Why it matters: NASA holds contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to fly astronauts to the station, returning crewed launches to the U.S. for the first time since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

  • SpaceX and Boeing's systems are designed to end U.S. reliance on Russian rockets for rides to orbit.

What's happening: Sunday's test was a shakeout of SpaceX's Crew Dragon abort system designed to whisk astronauts away from a failing rocket.

  • While the test appeared to go off without a hitch, SpaceX and NASA will take a detailed look at the data collected during Crew Dragon's flight and splashdown in the Atlantic to assess exactly how it performed.
  • NASA is also working to figure out whether they want the first crewed flight of SpaceX's system to be a long-duration mission to the station or whether it's best to make it a shorter flight.
  • "If it's going to be a longer duration, then we have to have some additional training for our astronauts to actually be prepared to do things on the International Space Station that we weren't planning to have that initial test crew necessarily do," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a post-test press conference.

Between the lines: NASA is also hedging its bets and purchasing another seat aboard Russia's Soyuz for its astronauts, according to Bridenstine, potentially taking some of the pressure off Boeing and SpaceX.

Go deeper: SpaceX launches test of abort system to keep astronauts safe

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SpaceX inks deal to fly space tourists to orbit

NASA astronaut Suni Williams inside a mockup of a Crew Dragon capsule. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX has penned a deal with the space tourism outfit Space Adventures to launch private citizens to orbit aboard the company's Crew Dragon capsule.

Why it matters: SpaceX is building and testing the Crew Dragon to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, but this announcement shows they're thinking about orbital space tourism as a possible driver of revenue for them in the future.

Go deeperArrowFeb 18, 2020 - Science

Boeing's troubled Starliner mission could have been much worse

Boeing's uncrewed Starliner back on Earth after flight. Photo: NASA

A December flight test of Boeing's Starliner may have ended in the loss of the uncrewed spacecraft if major software problems weren't caught during the mission, NASA said Friday.

Why it matters: Boeing is expected to start flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on Starliner this year, but the test flight issues could push back Boeing's first crewed flight.

Go deeperArrowFeb 7, 2020 - Science

Northrop Grumman sends cheese and sweets to International Space Station

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, launches on Feb. 15. Photo: Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via Getty Images

Defense contractor and aerospace giant Northrop Grumman successfully launched its 13th supply run to the International Space Station on Saturday afternoon, which included cheese and candy for station astronauts.

Details: The launch followed multiple mission attempts this week that were foiled due to bad weather and launch pad equipment concerns, per AP. The Cygnus NG-13 launch at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is carrying nearly 7,500 pounds of hardware, crew supplies and research, per NASA.

Go deeper: NASA looks to private companies to help commercialize low-Earth orbit