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SpaceX is one step closer to launching astronauts into space

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Scott Audette / Reuters

This week, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule arrived at Cape Canaveral, Florida after completing thermal vacuum and acoustic testing. This means the spacecraft is one step closer to its first launch, which will be an uncrewed test mission to the International Space Station. Demonstration Mission-1, or DM-1, is currently scheduled for sometime next month.

Whether SpaceX and NASA can stick to this schedule remains to be seen. Now that the spacecraft is at the Cape, it will be integrated with a Falcon 9 rocket and undergo final launch testing and preparations. The actual launch schedule will be determined both by the results of those tests, as well as the timetable for International Space Station arrivals and departures.

DM-1 will consist of an uncrewed flight to the International Space Station. It will remain at the ISS for a few weeks before its return to Earth. SpaceX will then perform an in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon, before finally launching its first crewed mission, DM-2. While this is currently scheduled for December 2018, it’s very unlikely that DM-2 will take place this year.

The United States has been without a crew vehicle capable of taking astronauts into space since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. Both SpaceX and Boeing are under contract with NASA to design and construct crew vehicles, and both are behind schedule. According to a recent GAO report, neither craft will be ready for a crewed test until 2019.

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