NASA has officially approved the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket for regular astronaut flights to and from the International Space Station. The agency has signed the Human Rating Certification Plan for SpaceX’s crew transportation system, making it the first spacecraft NASA has certified for manned missions since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said:
“This certification milestone is an incredible achievement from NASA and SpaceX that highlights the progress we can make working together with commercial industry.”
SpaceX had to prove that its system works by conducting numerous tests on the ground and completing demo flights over the past few years. The Elon Musk-led company successfully flew astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS back in May for the Demo-2 flight. A couple of months later, Crew Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean with the same astronauts onboard, bringing the historic mission — it was the first crewed flight that launched from US soil since the final space shuttle mission in 2011 — to a close.
In addition to the Demo-2 flight, SpaceX had to complete a plethora of other tests, including ones to make sure that Crew Dragon’s parachute system works. The company also had to put the capsule’s abort engines and launch escape system through their paces to make sure they can provide astronauts an escape from the rocket in case of an emergency during ascent.
Now that the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 system has been certified, NASA and SpaceX can start focusing on future flights that’ll carry more astronauts to orbit. Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operation Mission Directorate, said:
“Certification moves us from the design and test phase into the crew rotation phase of our work, but we will not stop making sure every flight, including NASA’s Space Crew-1 mission, will be approached with the same rigor we have put into making this the best system it can be for our astronauts.”
The first Crew Dragon operational flight will ferry NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, to the ISS for a six—month mission. NASA and SpaceX originally aimed for a Halloween launch, but their new target launch date is November 14th from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.