Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon edging closer to flight

NASA astronaut Suni Williams takes part in a simulated mission aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft. Williams is wearing SpaceX's spacesuit design. Photo credit: SpaceX

NASA astronaut Suni Williams takes part in a simulated mission aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Williams is wearing SpaceX’s spacesuit design. Photo Credit: SpaceX

To test a spacecraft for electromagnetic interference (EMI), it is placed in a special room designed for the task. SpaceX has done just that. Recently, company founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted a picture of the Crew Dragon capsule being prepared for testing in an anechoic chamber.

The chamber, lined with radiation-absorbent material, is designed to isolate the subject from external radio frequencies so that electronic components can be tested in a greenfield environment, free—inasmuch as possible—from interference.

Once EMI testing is complete, the Crew Dragon and its service module is expected to be shipped to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. There it will be tested in environments that can simulate both the rigors of launch—complete with shaking and high acoustic loads—to the vacuum and thermal characteristics of deep space.

Also undergoing tests and simulations is the experience within the spacecraft itself.

NASA astronaut Suni Williams recently took part in a simulated mission aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at the company’s Hawthorne, California headquarters, during which she was outfitted in the SpaceX spacesuit. Over the course of the training, Williams interacted with the touch-sensitive displays comprising the vehicle’s control panel.

“One of the key parts of the Commercial Crew Program is the joint test team,” Williams said in a May 18, 2018, NASA news release. “So whenever the providers want to do a test requiring human interaction with their systems, the team gets together to understand the test parameters and go through the safety review process so no one gets hurt during the testing.”

The simulations are meant to test and validate the hardware, software, and procedures used on an actual flight.

“Really the whole mission, from pre-launch through docking and undocking, entry, landing and post-landing, all of those need to be verified in the simulator,” Mike Good, program manager assistant for Crew Operations and Testing at Johnson Space Center, said in the space agency’s news release. “So we’ll have our astronauts going through each flight phase making sure all the tasks they have to do meet our workload, usability and error-rate requirements.”

Good said NASA is also contributing by helping the commercial crew providers, which also includes Boeing and its CRS-100 Starliner spacecraft, complete their verification testing so that they can can close requirements and fly safely.

SpaceX is currently targeting its first uncrewed test flight for later in 2018. The first piloted Crew Dragon should fly sometime after, possibly in 2018—although that may slip to 2019 with NASA requiring the Block 5 iteration of the Falcon 9 to launch seven times before it is certified to ferry astronauts to space.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted this picture of the company’s Crew Dragon vehicle being prepared for testing in an anechoic chamber. Photo Credit: Elon Musk



Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

Reader Comments

The outer casing assembly design seems to have changed quite a bit. I wonder if that’s due to material/design limitations they encountered or if NASA requested the use of standard techniques.

Solar panels??!!

The Dragon 2 solar panels are conformal, attached to the surface of other side of the Trunk. This eliminates several deployment failure modes.

This side of the Trunk houses Dragon 2’s thermal radiators.

Am I seeing 2 access hatches to the crew compartment?

NASA puts SpaceX through hoops, like a perfoming monkey, while Boeing gets a rain check. And the launch dates it keeps offering are laughable. Nice spaceship though.

This is a horrible panel layout. IMO. I am a pilot and in turbulence or high G situation, you would not be able to touch a control on that display. It is too high, requiring you to put your arms up where the effect of turbulence is most hard to counter. They need smaller control screens with bars a couple of inches high on the edge of each screen so you can hook your finger(s) to keep your hands close to the screen as you position your finger over the radio button you want to push. #poordesign

As it is only 1.2 or 1.5 minutes to max Q and say 3 more minutes to weightlessness, I would think the mission would be on fully auto including emergency escape and destruction downrange of the first two stages. All of this would be critically monitored at mission control. This makes sense as modern sensing and qualified flight-ware can react to adverse conditions much quicker than humans. PTT is probably on open mic or possibly voice activated prior to orbit because of the ‘lively’ conditions at launch. Basically, nobody aboard needs to touch anything until orbit is reached and peace ensues! Hence the touch panel becomes ideal.

David Jones; its built that way because it’s built to handle reentry & launch at max Q better than the mocup & Dragonrider prototype. The general look seems to be pretty close to the mockup & conceptual renderings though. Only noticeable differences I see is the lack of a viewport on the crew access hatch & all the rivets & bolts punched in the hull to mat the pressure vessel between the exterior & interior.

SAM; No the Dragon 2 does not use two crew access hatches. One hatch is for crew & the hatch just underneath is for the parachute cartridge.

“This is a horrible panel layout. IMO. I am a pilot and in turbulence or high G situation, you would not be able to touch a control on that display. It is too high, requiring you to put your arms up where the effect of turbulence is most hard to counter. ”

Except that astronauts will not be flying it 99.9% of the time, especially during launch. Dragon is by default autonomous, always has been, and will dock itself. Even when manually docking the relative closing vlocity is very low.

Also, re the instrument panel placed “high”, the forces during launch & re-entry are through the back … about 90 degrees from when flying. That being said, 1) the touch screen does freak me out a bit, but 2) chances I’ll ever pilot a spaceship? 0. i.e. I can’t claim to know what check I’m talking about.

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