Speaking in an interview with CNN shortly after presenting an update on Starship, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says that the company’s next two completed Crew Dragon spacecraft are both set to arrive in Florida before the end of the year.
Specifically, Musk estimated that Crew Dragon capsule 03 (C203) and its expendable trunk would be sent from SpaceX’s Hawthorne, CA factory to Cape Canaveral, FL as early as October. Crew Dragon capsule C204 is then expected to follow around one month later, arriving in Florida for preflight preparation as early as November.
Crew Dragon is an upgraded, human-rated follow-up to SpaceX’s highly successful Cargo Dragon, an uncrewed spacecraft that has successfully completed 19 orbital launches since December 2010. Over the course of those missions, Cargo Dragon has delivered almost 40 metric tons of cargo (39.5t, 87,000 lb) to the International Space Station (ISS) under SpaceX’s NASA Commercial Resupply Services 1 (CRS1) contract.
SpaceX executives have stated several times that Cargo Dragon (Dragon 1) and Crew Dragon (Dragon 2) barely have a single shared part between them, but Crew Dragon nevertheless shares the heritage built by its predecessor’s successful career. Like Dragon 1, Dragon 2 is comprised of two main sections – a capsule and a service section (known by SpaceX as a trunk). The capsule is designed to be recovered and reused, while the trunk is detached in orbit to eventually burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Same as Cargo Dragon, Crew Dragon’s trunk serves three main purposes aside from its basic structural role, providing power to the spacecraft with a solar array, regulating spacecraft temperature with a built-in radiator, and storing unpressurized cargo bound for the ISS.
Unlike Cargo Dragon, Crew Dragon features a launch abort system (LAS) powered by eight Super Draco engines, nominally capable of carrying astronauts to safety in the event of a Falcon 9 failures at any point during launch. On April 20th, recently flight-proven Crew Dragon capsule C201 suffered a catastrophic explosion as a result of a design flaw in its high-pressure propellant system. Eventually blamed on the use of a leaky, titanium valve in a high-pressure, oxidizer-rich environment, that explosion significantly delayed SpaceX’s Crew Dragon test flight schedule.
Prior to April 20th, SpaceX anticipated launching Crew Dragon’s In-Flight Abort (IFA) test as early as July 2019, followed by the spacecraft’s crewed demonstration launch (Demo-2) in September or October 2019. Capsule C201 was supposed to support the IFA test and its destruction forced SpaceX to reconfigure its spacecraft flight order, reassigning the capsule (C203) originally intended to fly astronauts on Demo-2 to IFA, while the Dragon (C204) meant for SpaceX’s second astronaut launch (known as PCM-1) was reassigned to Demo-2.
As of early September, SpaceX and NASA had nearly completed Crew Dragon’s static fire explosion investigation. The next few Crew Dragon spacecraft could have almost certainly been completed months ago, but SpaceX had to pause their integration to preserve access in the event that significant modifications were needed to recertify the capsules for flight. With the IFA Dragon set to arrive as early as October, SpaceX will have up to one month to prepare for the abort test, currently scheduled to occur no earlier than (NET) November 23rd according to recent FCC applications.
Assuming that Dragon performs flawlessly during the IFA, NASA could give Demo-2 – Crew Dragon’s inaugural astronaut launch – permission to launch as early as Q1 2020.
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