Boeing and SpaceX Commercial Crew Program launch dates slip even further
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program continues to have its test flights delayed, something that could serve to further exacerbate the U.S.’ access to the International Space Station.
Veteran CBS correspondent William Harwood has reported that the first uncrewed test flights of the vehicles designed to ferry astronauts to and from the space station has slipped again. As of now the first, uncrewed, test flight is scheduled for January of 2019. With the first test flight with astronauts on board slated to take place five months later in June.
In February 2017, SpaceX’s Chief Operating Officer, Gwynne Shotwell announced that “…the hell we won’t launch in 2018.” Given that neither uncrewed nor crewed flights of Dragon will fly before January – it would appear Shotwell might have been better served in making less brash statements.
Things have not gone swimmingly for the other contractor under CCP, Boeing, either.
Between failures with the Aerojet Rocketdyne’s abort engines that are tasked with providing astronauts with the ability to safely land back on Earth should something go wrong upon ascent. At one point, officials within NASA believed that Boeing was the front runner in terms of sending crews to the International Space Station. It would now appear the aerospace titan will fall behind SpaceX by at least two months.
As it stands now, the first flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is slated to take place in March of 2019, with the crewed test flight scheduled for August.
While these delays might have dulled the accuracy of proclamations and beliefs – they are not entirely the contractors’ fault. Rather, budgetary issues, along with NASA’s requirements have seen the test flights’ dates slide continuously toward the right of the calendar. In fact, it would appear these latest delays are due to these issues.
NASA hinted at some of these issues on its Commercial Crew blog:
After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.
The Commercial Crew Program is dissimilar to prior NASA human space endeavors in that the companies contracted to provide services under the program have more flexibility in terms of specifics about their individual products. This is reflected in the disparate designs of the spacecraft, space suits and designations of the flights themselves. Boeing’s uncrewed test has been dubbed Boeing Orbital Flight Test, with the crewed mission called Boeing Crew Flight Test. Respectively, SpaceX has named their missions: SpaceX Demo-1 and SpaceX Demo-2.
After each mission, NASA will review how the vehicles performed, how they interacted with the space station as well as the astronauts who flew on them. For the United States, the arrival of these spacecraft cannot come soon enough.
For more than seven years, the U.S. has been dependent on Russia for the transportation of its astronauts to and from the ISS via the long-lived line of Soyuz spacecraft. The two nations have encountered several periods of less-than cordial relations with, at one point, Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities Administrator Dmitry Rogozin stating that “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”
When coupled with the Aug. 29, 2018 pressure leak from the MS-09 Soyuz spacecraft, NASA officials are likely eager to see the time when the agency spends more than $70 million per seat on Soyuz come to an end.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.