NASA Announces Another Commercial Crew Delay
Astronauts will soon launch into space from U.S. soil once again but they’ll have to wait just a few more months. NASA announced a delay of the Commercial Crew Program.
NASA is partnering with private space companies Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida, a first since the retirement of the space shuttle back in 2011. Uncrewed test launches of both the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule were expected at the end of this year but NASA says those flights will have to wait until 2019 due to space station scheduling.
Mission managers said as the launch dates get closer, NASA expects more changes to the schedule. “As we get closer to launching human spacecraft from the U.S., we can be more precise in our schedules,” said Phil McAlister, director of Commercial Spaceflight Development at NASA Headquarters. “This allows our technical teams to work efficiently toward the most up-to-date schedules, while allowing us to provide regular updates publicly on the progress of our commercial crew partners.”
The two companies are finalizing testing and submitting paperwork for the final go-ahead for the flights. “This new process for reporting our schedule is better; nevertheless, launch dates will still have some uncertainty, and we anticipate they may change as we get closer to launch,” McAlister said. “These are new spacecraft, and the engineering teams have a lot of work to do before the systems will be ready to fly.”
Accorded to the latest target test dates, SpaceX will launch an uncrewed Dragon capsule in January, followed by Boeing’s uncrewed mission in March. That will follow with crewed test flights.
For the first crewed test flights, NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are training to fly on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission in March 2019. NASA Astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann, along with Boeing Astronaut Chris Ferguson, are slated for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test targeting June 2019.
Once each company completes its two test flights, uncrewed and crewed, NASA will review the test data before moving forward to operation, long-duration missions to the space station. Those missions are planned for August 2019 and December 2019.
The launch schedule takes into account the readiness of SpaceX and Boeing’s hardware, scheduling of vehicles docked at the International Space Station and availability of the Eastern Range to support rocket launches. NASA said it will update the schedule monthly based on these factors.
The Commercial Crew Program awarded a total of $6.8 billion to the two companies. Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, NASA relied on Russia to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.
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