SpaceX’s commercial crew goals are moving in a positive direction. The company plans to conduct its Crew Dragon’s uncrewed demo flight test and then in-flight abort test before the crew flight test that will be conducted in the second half of the year. SpaceX is still reviewing the specific target dates for its 3 main Commercial Crew events and will re-evaluate things in May.
The company is targeting August for its uncrewed flight test of the Crew Dragon vehicle, which is also known as Demo Mission 1 (DM-1). SpaceX’s in-flight abort test will follow. A crew Dragon will be attached atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Dragon’s onboard computers will trigger an abort once the vehicle reaches MaxQ or maximum stress on the vehicle during its ascent. After completing the 2 milestones, SpaceX plans to perform a test flight of the vehicle. The mission, which will be called DM-2, is slated for December 2018. However, it will most likely proceed in early 2019.
The DM-2 and DM-1 flights will serve as SpaceX’s certification endeavors for the Commercial Crew Program, which will lead to the usual six-month crew rotation flights to the ISS (International Space Station). The demo missions haven’t yet flown, but NASA is already collaborating with SpaceX to plan for the first 2 Post Certification Missions of the crew Dragon.
According to Kathy Lueders, Program Manager of the Commercial Crew Program, a lot of work has been done to ensure that the spacecraft is prepared to be able to complete uncrewed and crewed missions. They have been working on a fire suppression campaign, ensuring that Dragon and all its systems have that key hazard under control. The activities included installation of the vehicle’s radiators as well as integrated suit testing inside its Dragon training module to ensure that the integrated system is fully functional. The C2V2 crypto-comm radio is also being tested to make sure that the effects of water landing on it are understood. Their goal is to ensure that water landings won’t affect the communication system.
The space agency is also working on understanding how the water landings will affect the crew. The concern comes from realizing how the crew Dragon capsule’s integrated system works under particular water landing conditions and ensuring that the loads on the vehicle don’t exceed its ability to protect the crew during different sea state conditions. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with Boeing and SpaceX to comprehend maximum sea state conditions for Starliner and Dragon.