crewdragon

This uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon made it to the ISS and back.


NASA

Astronauts haven’t flown to space from the US since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. NASA, SpaceX and Boeing are trying to change that, but first SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will have to make a daring escape during a simulated launch emergency. That crucial test date is now set for no earlier than Jan. 4.

NASA announced on Friday the long-awaited scheduling for the spacecraft’s In-Flight Abort Test at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX and NASA had considered the possibility of launching the test before the end of the year, but dates like this have a way of slipping past projections.

SpaceX and Boeing are contracted with NASA under the Commercial Crew Program to develop spacecraft to shuttle astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX successfully launched an uncrewed Crew Dragon to the ISS earlier in 2019, but has to pass a series of safety tests, including this January milestone, before sending humans into space. 

“As part of the test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape shortly after liftoff and demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency,” NASA said in a release. The space agency described this as “one of the final major tests for the company.”

While Jan. 4 isn’t too far away, the date could easily change. Both SpaceX and Boeing have hit repeated delays in their efforts to get astronauts off the ground. It would almost be surprising if the In-Flight Abort Test happens on schedule.