Crew Dragon Capsule

NASA Certifies SpaceX To Carry Astronauts From and To Orbit

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NASA has certified SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Capsule and Falcon 9 booster to carry astronauts to-and-from orbit on Tuesday, October 10. NASA’s certification was the first one issued by the federal agency since certifying the Space Shuttle program in 1981.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated in a press release that the certification is “an incredible achievement from NASA and SpaceX. Senior NASA executive Kathy Lueders, confirmed that it “moves us from the design and test phase into the crew rotation phase of our work”. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also expressed his gratitude, thanking NASA for their “continued support of SpaceX.”

What is the Significance of NASA’s Certification?

In 2011, NASA’s Space Shuttle program was retired from service after the Atlantis orbiter vehicle performed its final flight that same year. Since then and up until SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, NASA was entirely relying on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. 

More specifically, Soyuz Rockets were the only means for American astronauts to make crewed flights from and to the International Space Station. NASA was paying approximately $90 million per seat to Russia to fly U.S. astronauts to the ISS. 

In order to launch to space from the United States, NASA initiated the Commercial Crew Program in 2011. The agency sought to partner with private companies, namely Boeing and SpaceX, to develop a reliable system of crew transportation that will carry astronauts to Low-Earth Orbit. For the first time in history, NASA is allowing private enterprises to operate future spaceflights. 

The program achieved a significant milestone with the launch of the Demo-2 mission in May 2020. It marked the first time astronauts launched from the United States since 2011. 

Analysis of Demo-2’s flight data eventually led NASA to officially certify SpaceX to begin regular crew rotation flights to the ISS. Additionally, the certification marks the official end of NASA’s reliance on Russia. 

What is Next?

SpaceX’s certification is coming ahead of completing final preparations for its Crew-1 mission. The Crew-1 will effectively be the first operational mission to the ISS as part of the Commercial Crew Program.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Capsule C207, dubbed “Resilience”, is expected to launch on Saturday November 14. Liftoff is targeted for 7:49 p.m. EDT, from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) located in Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Resilience” will carry NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Michael Hopkins, along with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

On Thursday November 5, “Resilience” and the Falcon 9 B1061 arrived at the Launch Complex 39A hangar. On November 10, SpaceX and NASA officials announced in a press conference the successful completion of the Crew-1 flight readiness review (FRR). 

The FRR is regarded as the last major test that stands between the reviewing of the assembled hardware and liftoff.

With the imminent launch of the Crew-1, SpaceX is set to have a continuous presence in the ISS from now on.

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