SpaceX has announced that it had successfully completed a static fire test of Falcon 9 rocket booster, which will be used for the space company’s highly anticipated launch using its Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS), edging the SpaceX closer for a crewed mission launch by 2020.
In light of the good news, both astronauts scheduled to ride atop SpaceX’s 20202 crewed mission expressed their excitement over on Twitter.
“Congratulations to the Team! @AstroBehnken and I are looking forward to that ride to orbit,” Douglas Hurley tweeted.
“Really wish @Astro_Doug, and I could have joined @SpaceX’s McGregor team for this!” Robert Behnken tweeted. “Huge step on the path to bringing human spaceflight back to @NASAKennedy and the Florida coast, we won’t miss engine start next time!”
The rocket booster, which underwent the clean static fire test was reportedly SpaceX’s first new Falcon 9 booster, the Falcon 9 B1058, which the space company has shipped to McGregor, Texas and have also been test-fired in more than four months.
If all goes according to plan, B1058 will become SpaceX’s first human-capable commercial rocket and will support its first human spaceflight attempt, a huge milestone to the company’s founder, Elon Musk, the goal of creating a sustainable way to colonize Mars.
The clean static fire test is good news for SpaceX and NASA after a Crew Dragon capsule unexpectedly exploded during a ground test in Florida earlier this year. That setback delayed the planned 2019 launch of a crewed mission.
SpaceX’s director of mission management stated that he “[couldn’t] believe how well the whole mission has gone” describing Crew Dragon’s inaugural launch, orbital mission, reentry, and landing as flawless.
However, the recovered spacecraft was destroyed during a catastrophic and highly consequential explosion less than six weeks after splashdown.
After a thorough three-month investigation, SpaceX and NASA announced their preliminary findings on July 15, 2019, concluding that an exotic titanium fire most likely caused the Crew Dragon spacecraft to explode.
Before the unexpected explosion of the C201 capsule, Crew Dragon would have been able to perform its first crewed launch before the end of 2019, a mission that was nominally planned as early as July or August 2019.
Despite the delay, SpaceX continued to proceed with its spacecraft development. Just recently, the space company’s Cargo Dragon capsule – the ones used to deliver payload back and forth the ISS – achieved a new record for making three consecutive returns with a reusable capsule.
The Cargo Dragon capsules are also carried by the company’s Falcon 9 rockets.
Earlier in March, SpaceX also pulled off a flawless but uncrewed Crew Dragon demonstration mission to the ISS, which boasted the capabilities of both the space company’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket booster and next-generation Dragon capsule.
So far, NASA has not set a new launch date for a Crew Dragon capsule with actual humans on board, but we’re likely looking at a 2020 schedule.
Notably, SpaceX is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which hopes to replace the space shuttle program by employing commercial companies to send American astronauts to the ISS.
Currently, NASA relies on space agencies from Russia, for example, to launch its astronauts. With the CCP, NASA hoped that launches would again happen from U.S. soil.
Other than SpaceX, Boeing is also part of NASA’s CCP. Boeing anticipates that its human-capable space capsule, the Starliner, will have its own uncrewed orbital debut, which could occur as early as October 2019, while Starliner’s crewed flight debut is unlikely to occur until Q1 2020.
As with most complicated space endeavors, however, there have been a series of delays as SpaceX and Boeing go through the development process. Initially hoped to result in the first orbital launches as early as late-2017, with the Congress’ underfunding of the Commercial Crew Program significantly caused to delay the launch debuts of bot SpaceX and Boeing by multiple years.
SpaceX hopes that with all the successful testing for the project in place, Congress will be more than encouraged to support the further development of the commercial spacecraft intended to ferry American astronauts.