The next step in NASA's plan to return astronauts to space in the US is a green light.
The space astronaut space space space space astronaut has received OK to complete its test flight early Saturday morning after a full-day review of Kennedy Space Center's readiness throughout the week last week. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket launcher at the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled for 2:48 am EST from the Kennedy Space Center's 39A launch complex.
The spacecraft will arrive with the ISS and will remain there until March 8, when it will return to Earth and burst into the Atlantic Ocean.
The launch, called Demo-1, will help NASA and SpaceX smooth out any other problems with the capsule before the astronauts are expected to launch this summer.
The decision to move forward after a report from the aerospace safety advisory panel that outlined several areas that are still worrying about SpaceX's space dragon and Boeing's CST-100Starliner, whose test flight is scheduled for April. The two capsules are expected to perform demo-launches with astronauts aboard – July for SpaceX and August for Boeing.
They will be the first launches of the ISS with the help of privately developed vehicles, part of NASA's program for commercial crew to return astronauts to space in the US after the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
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In his report, the agency outlined several concerns about SpaceX. Major among them were the company's revised helium bottles, known as COPV, which did not work during the launch in September 2016 and caused an explosion of the pad. In this regard, the panel is also examining SpaceX's "load and exit" procedure in which astronauts will board a spacecraft before refueling – a change from NASA's previous human spacecraft policy.
The panel said that while NASA and SpaceX have made "significant progress" in understanding how new bottles are being handled, the problems still remain with the new version and how they can affect the boot and release process.
"We believe that the team has not yet come to a clear position on risk or mitigation strategies related to operations with the revised COPV," the panel said. "… It is imperative that the program understands the potential hazards, the control of these hazards and the respective margins, as well as ensuring that the working environment remains within those margins if the COPV processed tanks are to be performed for crew flights. "
And despite NASA's decision to continue the test flight, at least one unresolved question remains after the review last week.
Officials with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency responsible for the current ISS launches, told NASA that they are still worried about the software that will put the capsule with the space station.
Bill Gerstenmayer, an associate NASA administrator for NASA's space flight program, told reporters last week that he thought the issue would be resolved.
A NASA statement also said space astronauts were studying Crew Dragon's docking procedures as part of the review last week.
"As the review continued, the crew members of the station used a computer coach and reviewed the procedures to refresh themselves with crew crew's crew systems, meetings and docks, penetration operations, emergency response and vehicle take-off, NASA said.