NASA has confirmed that the first Commercial Crew Program test flight is expected to launch on January 7, 2019. The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 will be launched aboard Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center.
This SpaceX Demo-1 mission is the first of the Commercial Crew Program to receive a confirmed launch date.
In addition to the confirmed launch date, NASA revealed a third test launch requirement for the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. The addition is an in-flight abort test that is expected to be launched between the two orbital test flights.
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner uncrewed and crewed test flights remain targeted for March and August 2019 respectively. Like the Crew Dragon, NASA announced that the Starliner would also be required to conduct an additional test mission. However, instead of an in-flight abort test, the Starliner will be subjected to a pad abort test. SpaceX conducted a successful pad abort test in 2015. It’s as yet unclear whether Boeing will be required to conduct an in-flight abort test.
Although it appears that the Commercial Crew Program is set to launch an operational mission in late 2019, the Washington Post broke a story early this week that may affect the program’s timeline. The news website revealed that NASA has launched an extensive and “invasive” review of SpaceX and Boeing. The review was launched after SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was filmed smoking weed during an interview with Joe Rogan.
Currently, NASA has not publicly commented on the review or its scope. It is also unclear whether or not the review will affect the Commercial Crew Program’s launch schedule. However, with SpaceX’s January 7 launch date announcement coming after that of the Washington Post article, it is likely that, at very least, the uncrewed test flights will not be affected.