The new United States spacecraft Dragon 2 will be launched for an unmanned mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 2, a source in the Russian space industry told Sputnik on Wednesday.
For now, NASA continues to expect that at least one of the vehicles will be ready for operational missions by the end of this year.
Boeing, meanwhile, is shooting for an April launch of its first Starliner capsule without a crew. This is the third month in a row that NASA has announced a further delay for the first major test flight of Crew Dragon.
"The uncrewed flight tests are a great dry run for not only our hardware, but for our team to get ready for our crewed flight tests", Kathy Lueders, NASA's commercial crew program manager, said in the statement. 6, 2019, officials set March 2 as the latest launch date for an unmanned test.
SpaceX, though, has been making progress, including rolling out the Crew Dragon spacecraft atop its Falcon 9 rocket to Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in early January for tests. The unpiloted capsule will execute an autonomous rendezvous with the space station, moving in for docking the day after launch. SpaceX created the Dragon 2, which will fly to the station in two modifications, Crew Dragon 2 and Cargo Dragon 2 based on the original Dragon spacecraft.
For the initial SpaceX test flight, the Dragon will depart five days after docking, plunging back into the atmosphere for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral. Recovery crews will haul the craft to shore for detailed post-flight examination. The Crew Dragon is equipped with rocket engines that can quickly push the ship away from a malfunctioning booster at any point from launch pad to orbit. The rocket performed a static fire test on the pad January 24 that the company said was successful.
The first two SpaceX flights will ultimately be "dress rehearsals" for future missions that feature astronauts aboard, according to officials.
Another US spacecraft planned to be launched to the ISS, the Starliner, is being built by Boeing.
Artist's illustrations of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner (left) and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsules in orbit.
While the schedule for the crewed test flights are little changed from previous schedules, there's an expectation in the industry that those dates, too, will slip depending on when the uncrewed test flights take place and their outcomes. NASA astronauts Michael Fincke and Nicole Aunapu Mann, as well as Boeing astronaut Christopher Ferguson will participate in the second flight.