The next big step for Elon Musk and SpaceX after Falcon Heavy test flight
The can be little doubt that Elon Musk has written himself into the history books with the successful launch of Falcon Heavy. It was a momentous occasion, purely because of the fact that it went as well as it did given the complexity of the launch sequence and subsequent recovery of the boosters. But what is next for SpaceX? There is a very important milestone on the horizon – and that is the first launch of astronauts on-board the Crew Dragon capsule.
The manned mission planned for the end of 2018 will be the first time that astronauts have been launched into space on a commercially built rocket, and will be a major milestone for the USA, who have not launched astronauts into orbit since the Space Shuttle flew for the last time 7 years ago, and have bought flights for it’s astronauts on the Russian Soyuz rockets ever since.
SpaceX and Boeing are both providing launch vehicles as part of NASA’s commercial crew program, and both are scheduled to perform unmanned test flights before flying a crew for the first time. According to NASA’s latest schedule, SpaceX is scheduled to perform 2 test flights in August 2018, and will aim to fly a crew by December. It is anyone’s guess as to whether it will be SpaceX or Boeing that will be the first to launch their crews on an actual test flight, but one can bet that Elon Musk will do all in his power to beat Boeing to the punch.
As far as the crews go, NASA has already announced which astronauts will fly the ground-breaking missions. It is understood that the commercial crew are working with both SpaceX and Boeing, and could be placed on either flight closer to the time. Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Suni Williams have been selected by NASA to take part in the program, and are all veterans of space flight. Suni Williams is the most experienced of the group, being a veteran of 2 Space Shuttle missions and 2 Soyuz launches, and has also been commander of the International Space Station during expedition 32.
Thought the first crew launch is currently scheduled for the end of December, it is likely to slip to 2019, with safety margins coming under intense scrutiny by NASA in the run-up to the first crewed mission.
Stay tuned to Aerospace Journal for more on the crewed missions, as well as upcoming updates on SpaceX’s next flight of the Falcon Heavy.