The SpaceX Crew Dragon astronaut capsule will be ready for its first manned orbital test flight in the first quarter of next year, as long as “everything goes as planned” in the next tests, NASA chief said Thursday, Jim Bridenstine.

On a visit to the SpaceX headquarters, Bridenstine praised the Elon Musk company for its “quick fail, then fix” approach to spacecraft design after a personal tour and an information session at the extensive manufacturing plant, a show of unity in the middle of a rare public dispute between the two. Key spatial figures.

NASA Aims for First Manned SpaceX Mission

But he also emphasized NASA’s concern for astronaut safety, saying the timeline could pass.

“We are not going to take any undue risk,” said Bridenstine, standing next to Musk outside a cleanroom that contained a Crew Dragon capsule.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is paying SpaceX and Boeing commercial launch contractors $ 6.8 billion to build rocket and capsule systems to return astronauts to the International Space Station from US soil for the first time since the program of United States space shuttles ended in 2011.

Bridenstine’s visit to SpaceX headquarters in the Hawthorne suburb of Los Angeles occurs while SpaceX works to overcome key technical challenges in Crew Dragon. SpaceX has so far never taken humans to orbit, just charging.

Musk and Bridenstine said they were working together for concerns about re-entry parachutes and other technical challenges, some of which were publicly detailed for the first time by Reuters.

“It’s a pretty hard engineering job to hit the parachutes,” Musk said, stating that Crew Dragon’s parachutes will have “twice the safety factor” than those used in the Apollo era.

“The tests will be complete and the hardware in Cabo (Canaveral) by the end of December,” he added.

While Musk and Bridenstine provided few concrete details about their joint investigation of an explosion during a capsule test in April, Musk said the incidents were inevitable during complex development processes and rigorous testing.

The visit follows a dispute in the last two weeks between Musk and the head of NASA, who was enraged with Musk on Twitter for celebrating an unrelated milestone achieved in the SpaceX spacecraft rocket while Spacex Dragon ended.

Musk quickly fired during a series of interviews, at one point citing a rival NASA lunar rocket called the Space Launch System that has been years behind and billions of dollars over budget. He also told CNN that “most of the work” that remains to be completed at Crew Dragon was related to NASA’s “long series of security checks.”

Both Boeing and SpaceX capsules have been affected by delays and crash tests that have prevented any of the companies from achieving targets for manned orbital missions in 2019.

RACE TO THE STATION

SpaceX successfully launched a Crew Dragon without a pilot in March to the International Space Station, a $ 100 billion orbital research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

Bridenstine told reporters on Thursday that a high-altitude abortion test of a system designed to push the capsule to a safe place in case of an emergency on the way to orbit would happen in a “short time”, although it did not provide a date-specific.

Other tests include an additional 10 “drop tests” in the air to assess the resistance and performance of the parachute, Bridenstine said.

NASA and SpaceX have had a tense relationship sometimes in recent years. The rise of SpaceX to become a dominant provider of satellite launch services over the past decade has been driven in part by NASA’s contracts and the agency’s transformative strategy to purchase services from private companies instead of owning the technology. per se.

The chief executive of Boeing’s Starliner rival program, John Mulholland, said at a conference on Wednesday that his own key test of an abortion system that drives astronauts to a safe place during an emergency was scheduled for November 4, while that his unscheduled orbital test flight was scheduled for December. 17)

In that time frame, Starliner’s first manned mission will surely reach 2020.

Without the current means to take astronauts to orbit from the US ground. In the US, NASA has been paying Russia about $ 80 million per ticket to travel to the space station.

Bridenstine said NASA “is still buying seats” for trips aboard the Russian Soyuz as an “insurance policy” against future delays in the development of the crew capsule.

When asked about his jab on Musk on Twitter, Bridenstine said he was “pointing” to SpaceX and all other NASA contractors that “we need more realism in our development deadlines.”

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