Animation of Crewed Dragon Flight to Space Station

Video Caption: SpaceX will soon demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to safely and reliably carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Editor’s Note: Musk tweeted the following concerning the schedule for the actual flight:

“Crew Dragon should be physically ready & at the Cape in Feb, but completing all safety reviews will probably take a few more months”

That would place the flight sometime in the second quarter of 2020. That fits with what I reportedly previously. Keep in mind that Musk’s predictions have been optimistic in the past.

So, why wold it take that long. The story is more complicated than one might think.

When the capsule destined for the in-flight abort test exploded earlier this year, SpaceX spent months investigating the cause and devising a fix for the anomaly. NASA had to review all the data those efforts generated and sign off on the modifications.

Musk’s company needed to modify the capsule it was building for the Crew Dragon mission with astronauts to fly on the in-flight abort test, which is currently scheduled for Jan. 11.

The test will require extensive data analysis to determine how well it went. The spacecraft will be subjected to severe stresses, so it won’t be recycled for another flight.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has had to build a brand spacecraft incorporating the modifications for the Crew Dragon flight test. That process can typically take six months to a year.

Contrary to a popular impression that seems to be out there, SpaceX didn’t have a Crew Dragon in any advanced state of development that could have been easily slid into the flight rotation. And since this mission will be the first to carry a crew, it will undergo a lot of additional checks.