Ahead of NASA-SpaceX Crew-1 mission, first human-rated commercial spacecraft system receives certification

By: |
November 11, 2020 10:10 PM

The certification has been completed days ahead of the scheduled launch of the Crew-1 mission on November 14.

The launch is set to take place from the Kennedy Space Centre of NASA. (Image: SpaceX)

NASA SpaceX Crew-1 mission: First human-rated commercial spacecraft system is now NASA certified! The US space agency NASA has announced that after years spent on the designing, development, and testing, the agency has finally officially certified the first commercial spacecraft system which would be capable of taking humans to the International Space Station and back. The certification is a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme. The Human Rating Certification Plan for Elon Musk-owned SpaceX’s crew transportation system was signed on Tuesday. Before signing the certificate, a thorough Flight Readiness Review was undertaken ahead of NASA-SpaceX Crew-1 mission, which would send astronauts to space.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that with this, they were bringing back regular human spaceflight launches to the American soil, aboard a rocket and spacecraft from the US itself. Terming the certification an “incredible achievement”, Bridenstine said that this highlighted the progress that could be made in the space sector if the agency works with the commercial industry.

Human-rated commercial spacecraft: A long journey

The road to the certification was not an easy one, and it included some critical events. The Crew Dragon, which includes rocket Falcon 9 along with other systems at the ground, marks the first new crew spacecraft which has been certified by NASA for regular flights to carry astronauts, after a gap of nearly a whopping four decades. In order to get here, NASA and SpaceX had to carry out ground tests, simulations, unmanned test flights, and then, the Demo-2 test flight earlier this year which carried two astronauts – Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.

NASA-SpaceX Crew-1: Timeline of test flights and development

  • 2015: The team working on the mission completed the pad abort test of Crew Dragon. This test was meant to check the spacecraft’s ability to escape the launch pad in case of any emergency before the scheduled liftoff.
  • March 2019: The NASA-SpaceX Demo-1 mission was carried out in which Crew Dragon was launched on a test flight. The spacecraft was docked on the ISS for a period of five days before safely returning to Earth. It was a key step in the restoration of the human spaceflight capability of the US. The test mission also marked the first launch, docking as well as the return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft, NASA said.
  • January 2020: Launch escape demonstration by NASA and SpaceX was successfully completed for the Crew Dragon spacecraft as well as the Falcon 9 rocket. This test was also significant because within 1 minute and 30 seconds into the flight, SpaceX triggered an intentional launch escape. It demonstrated the capability of the spacecraft to bring astronauts back safely in case any in-flight emergency were to occur.
  • May 2020: Finally, at the end of May this year, the Demo-2 mission was launched, carrying the two astronauts. This flight marked the first time the spacecraft and rocket took astronauts to the ISS and brought them back safely in the beginning of August. Following the return, the agency and SpaceX carried extensive analysis of the data from the test flight.

Apart from that, between 2016 and 2020, the team carried out dozens of tests to check the parachute system of the spacecraft, and the tests were completed successfully.

Meanwhile, NASA and SpaceX worked in tandem with the US Air Force and the Department of Defence for crew rescue training, the statement said.

What next?

The certification has been completed days ahead of the scheduled launch of the Crew-1 mission on November 14. This means that the mission would be the first flight to use the newly certified spacecraft by SpaceX. The Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket would be carrying Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover from NASA and Japanese astronaut Soichi Niguchi to the ISS for a mission that would last half a year before bringing them back safely to Earth. The launch is set to take place from the Kennedy Space Centre of NASA.

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