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After Thursday's test run, SpaceX is likely to be a month after the launch of the commercial crew

A man in a helmet stands in front of a giant rocket in an even bigger hanger.
Enlarge / The Falcon 9 rocket was tested Thursday by SpaceX.

On Thursday afternoon, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, SpaceX conducted a live test on the Falcon 9 rocket that will perform its first commercial crew demonstration mission. This flight will not transport the crew but will serve as a test of the launch system, the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the company's ability to safely secure the vehicle to the International Space Station.

More than two hours after the 16:00 test, at which time the first-stage engines of the rocket are launched for several seconds to simulate take-off during rocket blocking, SpaceX had not yet confirmed whether the test had successful. Some first reports indicated that the test was not completely cooked, which could be a problem or not.

The shooting of Thursday's rocket, which will now be fired from the launcher at SpaceX's horizontal integration center on the company's Florida site, nevertheless represents a significant step forward for SpaceX and NASA .

Typically, such a shot takes place one to two weeks before launching a rocket. NASA and SpaceX must, however, confirm the launch date of the mission. The current date, public and not before the date of the flight, is February 16, but sources told Ars that, in terms of internal planning, the current NET date is February 23.

Prepare the dragon

Before setting an official launch date, company and space agency officials still have to give the go-ahead to the mission during the final review process. These reviews will continue despite the partial shutdown of the government, as key NASA personnel designated for the Commercial Crew Program continue to work without pay in support of the flight.

Of course, the rocket is an essential part of the commercial crew's mission. However, for these flights, the most drastically modified material is the spacecraft, a significantly improved version of the Dragon vehicle that SpaceX has been using to supply the space station since 2012.

In addition to life support systems that can accommodate up to seven astronauts, the Crew Dragon features several essential upgrades that must be tested in space flight, such as solar panels built into the craft. spatial rather than those extended by panels.

If this first demonstration mission went ahead as planned, SpaceX and NASA would spend the next few months reviewing the performance data of the rocket and spacecraft before moving on to a second crewed demonstration flight. It may be thought that this mission could take place in July, but it is more likely that the flight of NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken would take place a little later in the summer or early fall.

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