NASA is fast running out of seats on Russian Soyuz capsules, so the long-delayed Commercial Crew Program will soon be the only way to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX is on-target to get its Dragon II capsule ready for crewed flights this summer, but Boeing has fallen behind with its CST-100 Starliner. According to a new report, it may be looking at another multi-month delay.
Initially, the Commercial Crew Program was supposed to deliver US-based private spacecraft several years ago. However, building and testing a vessel rated for human use is challenging. SpaceX and Boeing were the only companies that made it all the way through the design and prototyping process, and have been working to ready their crew capsules over the last few years.
SpaceX successfully tested the Dragon II in its crewed configuration several weeks ago. It docked with the ISS autonomously, remained there for several days, and then splashed down in the Atlantic ocean. Boeing has been on the schedule to conduct a similar unmanned test of the CST-100 next month, which was later than Boeing previously wanted thanks to a fuel leak last year. Being is reportedly looking at several additional months before it can get the Starliner into space.
Sources in the company told Reuters that a combination of issues had led to the delay. There are still some issues with the capsule that engineers need time to fix, but scheduling delays at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch site also contribute. When reached for comment, Boeing declined to confirm or deny the added delay. It would be easy to say there is no delay if indeed the launch was still on schedule. NASA would only say a revised launch schedule will be made available next week.
Pushing the uncrewed Starliner launch into the summer would also delay the first crewed flight. The Reuters report claims the Starliner won’t be certified to accept passengers until November 2019 at this rate. The current official schedule lists that flight for August. A delay would come as an embarrassment to Boeing, which is still reeling from the grounding of 737 Max 8 flights worldwide after a second deadly crash in several months. However, another delay is better than a failed test.
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