Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX is ready to fly its first commercially-built spacecraft designed for humans to the International Space Station, NASA said Friday after a high-level agency review of the project in the final week before the flight.
The unmanned SpaceX Demo-1 launch is set for 2:48 a.m. U.S. Eastern time on March 2 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The 27-foot long Crew Dragon will dock with the space station at 5:55 a.m. the following day. It will carry some cargo, radiation monitors and a full-scale “dummy” to replicate an astronaut.
Russian space officials dissented from NASA and SpaceX’s flight-readiness decision, arguing that a separate computer system should be installed to help govern the craft’s “velocity vectors” on its approach to the station in case of a main computer failure. A redundant system is employed on Japanese and European cargo vessels that dock with the ISS.
William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, said agency officials will follow up with their Russian counterparts about the safeguards that are in place in case of a failure.
“I guarantee you that not everything will work exactly right and that’s cool,” Gerstenmaier, a 42-year agency veteran, said Friday evening at a news conference.
NASA awarded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co. a combined $6.8 billion in September 2014 to revive the U.S.’s ability to fly to the space station without buying seats on Russian capsules. NASA’s commercial crew schedule has Boeing’s first flight set for “no earlier than” April.
Both companies plan significant safety exercises this summer before they can fly with crews. The agency is planning for both companies to fly astronauts this year but concedes that the schedule for crew flights could slip to 2020.
“Human spaceflight is basically the core mission of SpaceX so we are really excited to do this,” said Hans Koenigsmann, the company’s vice president of mission assurance.