SpaceX on target for milestone May 27 crew launch

SpaceX remains on track to launch astronauts next month despite a few remaining issues, members of a NASA advisory panel said Thursday (April 23).

Elon Musk’s company and NASA are working toward a May 27 launch date for Demo-2, which will send agency astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Crew Dragon capsule. And that target seems reasonable, according to members of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP).

“We are aware of a few technical items that remain to be more fully understood before the event occurs, but the path forward appears feasible,” ASAP Chair Patricia Sanders said Thursday during a public (though phone-only) meeting of the panel, which reports to both NASA and Congress.

Though Sanders didn’t identify the technical items, she may have been referring to outstanding work related to Crew Dragon’s parachute system and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which will launch Demo-2. SpaceX has aced a series of trials recently with the capsule’s revamped chute design, but the company still has a drop test on the docket for early May.

And one of the nine Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9’s first stage suffered a failure during a March launch of 60 SpaceX Starlink internet satellites. Though the anomaly did not unduly affect that mission — the Falcon 9 is designed to overcome such issues — NASA officials have said they want an investigation into the incident completed before Demo-2 lifts off.

SpaceX is flying Demo-2 under a $2.6 billion contract the company signed with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in 2014. That deal also covers six operational missions to and from the ISS, which SpaceX can begin flying after Demo-2 wraps up.

The upcoming mission will be the first orbital human spaceflight to launch from American soil since NASA’s space shuttle fleet retired in 2011. But it won’t be the first visit to the orbiting lab for a Crew Dragon: SpaceX flew an uncrewed mission called Demo-1 to the ISS in March 2019.

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