The first flight of a SpaceX missile adapted for astronaut flight to the International Space Station is scheduled for release from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 7, NASA said on Wednesday.
The launch test is a crucial milestone in the space agency's Commercial Crew Program, which aims to launch people into space in American soil for the first time in nearly a decade.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration said SpaceX Crew Dragon – which will carry three space astronauts from the same launch platform that deployed three Apollo 11 crew on the Moon in 1969 – will make the debut on the rocket Falcon 9 of SpaceX January 7.
While NASA did not detail the flight route, it said the test would provide Falcon 9, Crew Dragon and Earth system performance data as well as operations on orbit, docking and landing.
SpaceX and Boeing Co. are the two main contractors selected in the NASA Crew Program to send space astronauts in 2019 using their Dragon and CST-100 Starliner crew.
As the US space shuttle program was halted in 2011, NASA had to rely on Russia to fly astronauts to the space station, an orbital research laboratory of about 100 billion dollars (about 71,000 Crowns) flying about 402 km of Earth.
Launching Demo-1 is the latest test in a rigorous certification time line imposed by NASA's Commercial Crew Program. While SpaceX is headed for early January, NASA spokesman Marie Lewis said the demo mission could be pushed back because "safe flight has always been preceded over the program."
Founded by Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, SpaceX said that if the Jan. 7 test is successful, he plans to launch his first mission in June 2019, but the timing may change.
Boeing plans to launch the Starliner spacecraft on top of its Atlas 5 rocket immediately after March with a mission in August.
The January 7 launch announcement comes a day after NASA said it would conduct a "cultural valuation study" of companies, "including adherence to a drug-free environment," before crew test flights.
© Thomson Reuters 2018