With its stubby nose and matte-black fins, SpaceX's first Crew Dragon spaceship for astronauts looks like something out of science fiction. But this privately built space capsule is no figment. It's going through some final testing for a scheduled uncrewed launch debut this summer.
A new SpaceX photo shows just what kind of tests SpaceX's Crew Dragon is undergoing. The space capsule appears here at NASA's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, where the agency's In-Space Propulsion Facility is testing the craft. The facility, overseen by NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, boasts a massive thermal vacuum chamber that is "the world's only facility capable of testing full-scale upper-stage launch vehicles and rocket engines under simulated high-altitude conditions," NASA officials said in an image description.
The Crew Dragon tests are vital for SpaceX to ensure the spacecraft can survive the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space, NASA added. [The Evolution of SpaceX's Rockets in Pictures]
"Once complete, Crew Dragon will travel to Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of its first flight," SpaceX representatives wrote in an image post last week.
An earlier SpaceX photo of Crew Dragon showed the spaceship at another test site — NASA's anechoic chamber at the Kennedy Space Center — during electromagnetic interference testing on May 20.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon, a crewed version of the company's robotic Dragon cargo ship, is one of two commercial space taxis that NASA will use to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing's CST-100 Starliner is the other. Both spacecraft are designed to carry up to seven astronauts. Crew Dragon will launch on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, while Starliner will launch on Atlas V rockets built by the United Launch Alliance.
The first uncrewed Crew Dragon and Starliner test flights are expected to launch in August from different pads at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, NASA officials have said. (Spaceflight Now has Boeing's Starliner test flight pegged for Aug. 27 but no date yet for Crew Dragon.)
If all goes well, Crew Dragon could make its first crewed launch in December, with Boeing's first crewed Starliner flight scheduled for a month earlier, in November.
The commercial spaceships will be the first to launch U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired in July 2011. Since then, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets and spaceships to fly U.S. astronauts in space.