SpaceX might finally be the human crew carrier that NASA has been waiting years for. Their load-and-go launches have been declared safe to use for their Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Only a few months back, reports emerged that load and go was not safe for carrying crew and that a NASA advisory board had warned the space agency with an Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel "ASAP report".
This report was even taken to Congress wherein it was stated that "contrary to booster safety criteria that have been in place for over 50 years." However, SpaceX has always maintained their stance on safety saying that their methods are suited for human flight and that load and go is an integral part of the way they operate their rockets.
What is load and go?
Rockets like the Falcon 9 used by SpaceX are placed on the launch pad with the propellant tanks empty. Just 35 minutes before lift-off, the propellant is pumped into the tanks at an extremely cold temperature. Keeping the fuel as physically compressed as possible, the tanks can hold a lot more fuel this way and aid in a powerful lift-off. If the rocket is carrying a human crew, the fuel loading will start well after the astronauts are placed in the capsule and strapped in. If something were to go wrong, it could potentially be disastrous.
Now, NASA has reportedly made a statement wherein they have reviewed SpaceX's systems and cleared it for human flight as well. "To make this decision, our teams conducted an extensive review of the SpaceX ground operations, launch vehicle design, escape systems and operational history," Kathy Lueders, NASA's commercial crew program manager, said in the statement.
"Safety for our personnel was the driver for this analysis, and the team's assessment was that this plan presents the least risk."
SpaceX Chief Elon Musk was reportedly confident about the review and according to a report by SpaceNews, Musk was actually not worried about NASA rejecting their load and go. "I think that issue has been somewhat overblown," he said. He added that SpaceX, if needed, could actually fuel the Falcon 9 before bringing the astronauts in.
"But I don't think it's going to be necessary, any more than passengers on an aircraft need to wait until the aircraft is full of fuel before boarding," he said.
NASA has, however, noted that a formal certification of SpaceX's load and go is still pending what they are calling, "additional verification and demonstration activities." There will be at least five demonstrations of the crew loading procedure before this.