Crew Dragon Now Top Priority for SpaceX

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Bridenstine Complained; Musk Listened, and Now Crew Dragon Is in High Gear

Now that all of the hullabaloo over Starship has died down, Elon Musk’s SpaceX wizards can get back to the alchemical sorcery that is getting a Dragon to fly.  Specifically, the Crew Dragon spacecraft. You know, the one NASA’s been waiting (not quite) patiently on for a few years now? If I know Jim Bridenstine (I don’t, but I’d like to), he’s probably saying “Finally!” or something to that effect this week. You see, Musk said two days ago that Crew Dragon is now the priority, and all of the hardware to finish building it could be in Florida by December.

Musk’s assurance, as so many of his announcements do, came via Twitter. It was in response to this tweet about NASA being in “full panic mode” over the problem. 

Musk’s comments are as follows:

About That Chute…

The chute Musk is referring to is a design change. That design change came as the result of a fiery explosion during one of the last Crew Dragon tests. That test revealed a critical design flaw in the capsules propulsion-based landing system. To re-engineer at this point would be unacceptable given current deadlines. Instead, SpaceX opted to implement a parachute landing system, similar to the systems used in the Gemini and Apollo programs. 

Presumably, future versions of the Crew Dragon will be able to land safely under a redesigned propulsion landing system. SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon capsule successfully does so on a routine basis. Unmanned capsules, however, do not require the stringent safety features that the Crew version does. Hence the delays.

Another critical component of the Crew Dragon is the in-flight abort system. Fortunately, the propulsion engines that were supposed to be able to land the craft should still work for an abort operation. NASA and other officials require further testing of this system before they approve a human flight. Musk, however, also mentioned that a Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 are on their way to Florida for such testing, which could happen as early as December.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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