SpaceX targets January for unmanned capsule test flight

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The crew version of Dragon in space. (Artist's rendering courtesy SpaceX)

SpaceX is hoping to start 2019 off with another first. The private launch company is planning to send its Dragon crew capsule into space for an unmanned test flight on January 7.

The launch would mark the first orbital flight of a private space taxi.  While SpaceX has been sending supplies to the space station with cargo versions of the Dragon capsule for years, no humans have flown in them yet.

Before that can happen, SpaceX must test the crewed version of the spacecraft, which includes life support systems that the cargo version doesn’t.  The test flight will also check out other on-orbit, docking, and landing operations, plus ground support systems.

The Falcon 9 booster will blast off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A, which has a new crew access arm installed on the launch tower for eventual manned missions.

SpaceX and Boeing each have contracts with NASA to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. Since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011, NASA has been paying Russia to launch astronauts to the station and bring them home. 

NASA had expected that the private missions would be flying years ago, but development delays for both contractors have dragged on.

Boeing also plans to test-fly their capsule, dubbed the Starliner, possibly as soon as March.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have been tapped for Dragon's first manned flight later in 2019.

FOX 13 News reported this story from Tampa.