NASA heliophysics fleet plans first ever mission to study space weather

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SpaceX's first Crew Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket will launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on March 2, 2019, at 2:49 a.m. EST. Ripley is similar to Starman, which blasted off a year ago in the driver's seat of Musk's red Tesla convertible, on a test launch of the company's bigger Falcon Heavy rocket. NASA's Doug Hurley and Boeing's Christopher Ferguson-who both flew that final shuttle mission-will test drive the new commercial capsules. Kathy Lueders, program manager for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said it's critical to wring out as much of the risk posed by a brand-new vehicle as possible before people climb on board.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the first privately developed spacecraft created to ferry USA astronauts to orbit since NASA's shuttle was retired eight years ago is on track for blastoff on an unpiloted test flight early Saturday.

SpaceX is ready for Saturday's inaugural test flight of the Crew Dragon, the next step in a mission to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

The six-day test flight will be real in every regard, beginning with a Florida liftoff on March 2, and a docking the next day with the International Space Station. Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president of build and flight reliability, shied away from calling the test device a dummy. For this test, it's carrying 450 pounds of supplies and gear. The robotically controlled rendezvous is scheduled to take place early Sunday morning.

The insides of the spacecraft, while roomy, will look a bit different once NASA outfits it with whatever a crewed mission will require, but it's not hard to be impressed with the futuristic look sparkling clean aesthetic of Crew Dragon's cabin.

We've seen SpaceX's Crew Dragon hurdle multiple delays and survive the scrutiny of a flight readiness review, and now we're finally ready to watch the capsule escape from this planet with the help of a Falcon 9 rocket.

Ripley dummy astronaut

Crew Dragon and Starliner were commissioned to replace the Space Shuttle, which was retired in 2011. In the interim, NASA has been paying the Russians as much as $80 million per seat for rides back and forth on Soyuz spacecraft.

The new experiment will, for the first time, obtain global observations of an important driver of space weather in a dynamic region of Earth's upper atmosphere that can cause interference with radio and GPS communications, NASA said in a statement.

The uncrewed flight, or Demo-1 mission, will provide SpaceX an opportunity the demonstrate the reliability of its rocket launch system and the safety of its crew module. For example, NASA wants to make sure SpaceX has fully addressed concerns about the Falcon 9's composite-wrapped helium tanks, which were redesigned after a launch-pad explosion in 2016.

The Crew Dragon also has SuperDraco thrusters, more powerful than the Draco thrusters used on the Dragon. SpaceX then aims to launch an in-flight abort test flight, also uncrewed, in the next few months.

The initial SpaceX mission to the ISS will be crewed by NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, according to the space agency.

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