Science: SpaceX Crewed Capsule Preps for Test Flight in Florida

Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s capsule designed to carry astronauts into space, arrived in Florida this week. There, the spacecraft will continue preparations for its first test flight, which could take place in August.

The move comes after the capsule completed a series of tests with NASA at the agency’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. The details of those tests haven’t been discussed publicly, but the evaluations made use of the facility’s thermal vacuum chamber.

That chamber is critically important to NASA’s confidence in the capsule, because the location is “the world’s only facility capable of testing full-scale upper-stage launch vehicles and rocket engines under simulated high-altitude conditions,” according to a NASA statement.

Now that it has arrived in Florida, Crew Dragon will be prepared for its first test flight, which will be uncrewed. That launch is not yet officially scheduled, although NASA suggested earlier this year that the flight could happen in August. A second test flight, this time with humans on board, could take place in December, although that date is also unofficial.

The capsule’s move to Florida comes the same week that a federal government report expressed concern that U.S. astronauts could lose access to the International Space Station after NASA’s agreement with Russia for use of the Soyuz rockets runs out. NASA has relied on the Russians to carry U.S. astronauts to the space station ever since the shuttle program ended in 2011.

SpaceX isn’t the only company looking to take over ferrying U.S. astronauts to space; Boeing is also due to test a crewed capsule later this year, with a similar pair of uncrewed and crewed tests taking place on a similar timeline to SpaceX’s.

If one or both companies can pass those tests without issue, U.S. astronauts should have steady access to the space station. But if something goes wrong and the companies’ timelines are delayed further, NASA astronauts may be left without a ride to work.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us , Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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