SpaceX completes static fire test of Falcon 9 rocket for Crew Dragon capsule

SpaceX has completed a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket that is scheduled to bring the Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS next month. The test took place at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SpaceX reports that the test has been completed and that a first demonstration flight of the Crew Dragon is targeted in February. When exactly that will take place is still unclear, although the website Spaceflight Now reports that unnamed managers from NASA and SpaceX have said that the first, unmanned test flight of the Crew Dragon will not take place before February 23.

During a static fire test, the engines are ignited for a short time, without the rocket moving. During the test, the nine Merlin 1D engines were ignited. SpaceX says the test was successful, but Spaceflight Now reports that multiple sources indicate the test ignitions stopped prematurely.

During the maiden flight, the capsule will fly to the International Space Station, where it will automatically dock with the space station. It is the first time that the company has performed this maneuver automatically; the cargo flights that SpaceX has been undertaking to the ISS for years use capsules that are retrieved by the robotic arm of the ISS. The Crew Dragon will return to Earth after docking, where the pod will land in the sea.

Elon Musk says that if the first test flight goes well, NASA can bring astronauts to the ISS with the Crew Dragon this summer. The Crew Dragon is part of a multi-billion dollar contract that is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This program ensures that the US is no longer dependent on Russian Soyuz flights to bring astronauts to the ISS. Later this year, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will also be heading for the ISS. This is an alternative capsule that is also suitable for taking astronauts to and from the ISS and is also part of the NASA program.