NASA has given the green light for Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch the first unmanned test of its seven-seat Crew Dragon capsule on March 2 after passing a full day of reviews, bringing the space agency one step closer to replacing the retired Space Shuttle program after years of delays and ending its dependency on contracted Russian Soyuz rockets.
The test flight was originally scheduled for January, but was later delayed to complete hardware testing and other reviews. Per Space.com, NASA and SpaceX officials have now completed an in-depth review of the Crew Dragon’s capabilities called a flight readiness review, with NASA Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Leuders telling reporters they needed to verify the craft “can safely go rendezvous and dock with the space station, and undock safely, and not pose a hazard to the International Space Station.”
The flight date, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, is scheduled for 2:48 a.m. ET on March 2, at NASA’s Florida-based Kennedy Space Center—with backup dates of March 5, 8, or 9 if the mission is delayed due to technical problems or poor conditions on the day of the launch. That puts SpaceX well ahead of competitor Boeing, whose CST-100 Starliner isn’t scheduled for its first uncrewed test date until April. That month, SpaceX is planning tests of the Crew Dragon’s emergency abort system, which uses SuperDraco engines to propel the capsule away from danger in the event of an emergency. If all goes according to plan, which is far from guaranteed, Crew Dragon will be slated for a manned mission in July, according to Space.com.