Bridenstine Sees First Crew Dragon Flight Slipping into Spring

Jim Bridenstine (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

USA Today reports that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine believes the SpaceX Crew Dragon flight test scheduled for Jan. 7 will likely slip into spring.

That would mean the mission, which will not have a crew aboard for its flight to the International Space Station, would launch no sooner  than the first day of spring on March 20.

Bridenstine’s acknowledgment that January is a “very low probability” window is the first time the agency has publicly cast doubt on the timing of the scheduled launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test flight of the SpaceX rocket and capsule is a key step in NASA’s efforts to resume U.S. transport to Earth’s orbit nearly a decade after the space shuttle was mothballed.

The administrator attributed the delay to challenges with several components, including landing parachutes. Some of those systems could be tested without flying them on the initial flight.

It’s a matter of determining “what configuration are we willing to accept as an agency and are we willing to waive certain items (and) how do we test those items,” Bridenstine told reporters at NASA headquarters.

But he said the test flight “will certainly be in the first half of 2019,” a schedule that still would accommodate a crewed flight by the end of the year.

Parabolic Arc earlier reported that not all of Dragon’s systems would be ready in time for the first flight.

A flight test of Crew Dragon with astronauts aboard is currently scheduled for June 2019. NASA would then certify the vehicle to carry astronauts to the space station on a commercial basis.

Boeing is scheduled to test its Starliner spacecraft with an automated test in March and a flight with crew in August. NASA could extend the crewed flight from a brief stay at the space station to a long-duration mission.

Both SpaceX and Boeing are scheduled to conduct abort tests in between their automated and crewed flight tests. SpaceX will conduct an in-flight abort test; Boeing’s abort test will be conducted from a launch pad.

NASA needs to have at least one of the crew systems functional by January 2020. That is when the last agency astronaut to fly aboard a Russian Soyuz vehicle on a paid basis is set to return.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Fan boys is descriptive…I usually dont do name calling

  • Robert G. Oler

    Right now they wont. And in my view they should not…the shuttle got in trouble flying with “waivers”

  • redneck

    Antique equipment due to certification difficulties.

  • Robert G. Oler

    No

  • Robert G. Oler

    Quite sure they will all eventually fly and safely

  • 76 er

    I fail to see how additional interviews and questionnaires at the corporate level will add to the safety of human spaceflight. On an individual level for example a pilot gets a check-ride for proficiency or a mechanic is supervised by inspectors during a maintenance procedure. But at levels above that? I don’t buy it.

  • savuporo

    > NSF is a fan site for space travel, period

    Eh not really. It devolved into “everything spacex” cheerleading camp very quickly. The actual spaceflight, you know, things flying in space through the space and doing things in space gets very little coverage or attention.

  • Adjure

    They are coming after you Robert. I know the feeling.

  • Adjure

    Wow. You are certainly a great asset to spacex. Good JOB!

  • duheagle

    Evidence, it seems, is for pussies.

  • duheagle

    Increasingly “out there,” but also vague, allegations against SpaceX since a genuine problem was found with the Starliner escape system are no “fantasy.” You traffic in little else these days. Your counterparts within NASA seem to be pulling out all the stops in an effort to delay actual flight testing of Dragon 2 until Boeing can catch back up.

  • duheagle

    Bingo. As in the case of NASA’s initial idiotic objections to SpaceX’s F9 propellant-loading procedure or its equally farcical – and still in place – prohibition on D2 propulsive feet-dry landings the practical definition of an “insufficient” safety culture usually winds up being, “You don’t do things in The Sacred Way They’ve Always Been Done and you give your “betters” backchat when we try to make you.

  • duheagle

    Failing to see what is not, in fact, there reflects no discredit on your visual acuity. If the actual object of the exercise was to increase safety, you’d have a point. As the actual object of the exercise is simply to delay SpaceX until Boeing catches up – not so much. This isn’t about “safety,” it’s about putting a thumb on the scale.

  • duheagle

    The Shuttle got in trouble because the same people establishing the criteria also got to decide on the issuance of waivers. Pure self-dealing by NASA. “Put your manager hat on” and all that.

    In the current case there are two distinct entities involved so self-dealing isn’t the issue. Instead it seems to be institutional favoritism toward one contractor over another.

    So, a lack of real checks and balances in the Shuttle case versus the presence of a big fat thumb on the balance in the case of SpaceX’s “safety culture” review.

    The Soyuz, of course, flies without any “waivers” so it must be perfectly safe, right?

  • duheagle

    Yes, the latest in a long line of goofy SpaceX “fantasies” – like the Falcon Heavy.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX already seems to have “issues” with NASA, though it would be more accurate to reverse the order of the nouns in that phrase. It’s hard to see where NASA could reasonably plant its feet in any effort to keep Starship or Super Heavy from being hop-tested. It’s even harder to see why DoD would have any issue with SpaceX proceeding to hop-tests of Starship/Super Heavy at maximum speed. Considering the alacrity with which USAF gave EELV certification to FH, in fact, an equally prompt repeat performance in the case of Super Heavy/Starship now looks to be the highest-probability outcome when that combo first flies to orbit. The burden of proof is certainly on anyone who imagines otherwise.

  • Michael Halpern

    The way I see it, SpaceX probably has one of the better safety cultures of the industry. They test everything as close to real environment as possible, (in a way that hasn’t gotten anyone seriously injured, and they have the most intensive testing regimen out there) and the fact that ASAP has sounded envious of their documentation system, all leads me to believe that they have a pretty excellent safety culture.

  • Michael Halpern

    I have a hard time believing that paperwork will be allowed to delay DM-1 more than a couple weeks, NASA wants the capability Only politics cares who is first

  • duheagle

    NASA is hardly the FAA or anything remotely resembling it. If it were, it wouldn’t be flying its people on the rattletrap Soyuz – a craft into which it has essentially zero insight. If NASA actually had a safety culture, instead of a culture of favoritism toward legacy contractors, it would be hurrying both D2 and Starliner along as quickly as possible to get its people off the decaying Soyuz. Boeing favoritism seems to be trumping that very real safety consideration.

    As for your alleged blue-suited insider at Hawthorne, what, exactly, would he prefer SpaceX do when it discovers a problem if not promptly fix it? We know what USAF, as an institution, has tended to do about real problems discovered in aircraft produced by its legacy contractors – deny and stall. There was the infamous case of the aileron bushings on early-production F-16’s, for example. More recently, there have been the pilot oxygen issues with the F-35. There’s your “aerospace culture.” Software culture looks pretty good to me by comparison. That “software culture” seems to be what got yesterday’s F9 S1 back in one piece even after a significant hardware failure.

  • duheagle

    The problem is, “politics” of one sort or another has always mattered crucially to NASA going all the way back to the Mercury days. If DM-1 flies in January, perhaps that will be an indication that the NASA good guys have successfully beaten back the old-school favoritism and possible corruption now seemingly regnant. One certainly hopes so. One good test flight for D2 will vastly complicate the lives of those at NASA trying to jam up SpaceX; hence all the effort currently going into delaying said flight.

  • Michael Halpern

    the waivers in this case would just be for operating in an experimental capacity, which is what the uncrewed DM-1 would be anyways, this wouldn’t be for long term operational use. It is perfectly appropriate if for instance the supplier for a component like a reef cutter is still in the process of earning NASA approval to get a waiver on that component to go on with the test, on the understanding that for later missions they will need that certification sorted out as soon as possible, waivers should be temporary, to prevent hold ups, but not to get out of full certification, ISS scheduling is complicated, having the docking port available isn’t a given, they have to do it when they can, and if a supplier needs time with paperwork get a waiver for it, just for the demo mission.

  • duheagle

    You’re an airline pilot. Commercial aviators like to think they’re safety professionals, but, as overall accident rates in commercial aviation have fallen, the percentage of those still occurring that wind up being attributable to pilot error increases and dominates. Your profession, in short, has reached the point where significant improvement is only likely to be achieved by automating it entirely out of existence. The same is also true for military fighter pilots. But you guys have a powerful union with an ex-NASA Deputy Administrator running it so that particular fight is likely to be both vicious and protracted.

  • Michael Halpern

    I personally doubt they will have too much trouble getting a temporary waiver for a relatively simple component that is coming from a new supplier, I think Jim is just doing a CYA. NASA and SpaceX do have a fairly good relationship, and they have for a while, after all, the dragon mission in which they first rendezvous with ISS they originally weren’t going to berth, but they decided to expand the scope of the mission to berth with ISS. Another factor is that the spacecraft ISS scheduling does constrain WHEN they can do it and well they only have so many soyuz left. In this situation a temporary waiver is perfectly appropriate. I am going to say between the 17th and 24th is reasonable, D2 is very similar to D1, which has had a marvelous record, while its a new Pressure Vessel, it has a lot more proven technology than Starliner.

  • duheagle

    I certainly have no definite knowledge of Mr. Oler’s profession beyond what he says in these forums. That said, I’m inclined to give pretty much everybody the benefit of the doubt anent biography – except known fabulists like Gary Church, of course.

    GA pilots – especially professional ones like bush pilots in Alaska or the guys I crossed paths with regularly 40 years ago who flew into and out of the back of beyond for oil exploration and production companies – do tend to be rather different characters than commercial pilots with much less general respect for administrative and regulatory bureaucracies. Those oil company guys, in particular, had stories that rank right up there with tales one hears about the glory days of Air America. “Men with the bark on,” as Louis L’Amour used to say.

    There are a lot of different “tribes” within the pilot fraternity. The guys I knew and the guys you know wear different warpaint than Mr. Oler and others like him who fly the big iron for the major airlines.

  • duheagle

    That isn’t the impression I get as his most frequent references to aircraft are to big Boeings like the 777.

  • duheagle

    I hope you’re right anent D2’s test flight date.

    As to SpaceX’s relationship with NASA, it has many such as NASA is, itself, quite balkanized with different pieces often working at cross-purposes. SpaceX seems to have a lot of friends at Ames, Plum Brook, Houston and on the Space Coast of Florida, for example. At Marshall it has a lot of enemies. Internal NASA politics are fluid and dynamic. Who gets to say what about what seems subject to turbulent change.

  • duheagle

    I’m with redneck on this one. There is a lot about GA aircraft that is unreasonably retro for no good reason. Piston-engined GA aircraft, for example, use engines that still rely on antiquated carburetors for mixing of fuel and air whereas fuel injection systems have been standard in the automotive engine world for decades.

  • duheagle

    Ridiculous, especially considering how much of what actually flies in space gets there on SpaceX vehicles these days.

  • duheagle

    Dragon 2 parachute tests are all, so far as I know, on YouTube. There are no “deployment failures” to be seen there. Nor are any obvious “riser issues.”

    There have also been no Dragon 1 “failures” other than the CRS-7 mission and that was due to S2 failure, not anything to do with Dragon 1. Once again you make bald assertions that are ridiculous on their face and when called out for a lack of specifics, you have nothing to add.

    You can be a skeptical as you care to about SpaceX’s finances. All you have to do is ignore years of statements by SpaceX senior management and, in particular, that batch of purloined SpaceX financials that WSJ got hold of and published in early 2017. For you, actual facts seem to be very inconvenient things indeed.

  • duheagle

    What we fanboys do and say is pretty much irrelevant – it’s reality that’s coming for both you and RGO. Denials of things yet to come would have more credibility were they not also accompanied by frequent and pathetic denials of things that have already happened, some of them of quite longstanding.

  • Michael Halpern

    Well Marshal doesn’t have direct influence over CCP,

  • savuporo

    Thanks for .. making my point.

  • Robert G. Oler

    lol

    the Musk conspiracy crowd…

  • Robert G. Oler

    NASA is the certificating authority here. the Soyuz thing is more a political deal

    I think that the complaint is that SpaceX does not view the chute issue as a problem

  • windbourne

    yesterday’s automated landing using exception handling within their code, was IMPRESSIVE. Most developed code works fine until you hit exceptions. It is right then, that we see what separates CIS, and self-taught from CS/EE (and more so with EEs) .

  • Adjure

    Anybody not-a-fan-boy reading the dogpile of toxic replies knows what is happening here. The Musk Mob is doing what they always do to anyone that criticizes spacex. It is truly disgusting.

  • Richard Malcolm

    the Soyuz thing is more a political deal

    It clearly is. But tell that to the families when Soyuz finally kills a crew.

    But if NASA truly wants safety to be the highest priority, then the entire question of continuing use of Soyuz has to be be revisited, and should have been revisited well before now.

    Otherwise, we are left to conclude that safety is only prioritized for NASA when it is politically convenient.

  • Richard Malcolm

    The Shuttle got in trouble because the same people establishing the criteria also got to decide on the issuance of waivers. Pure self-dealing by NASA.

    Exactly.