by Elton Gomes
The first human spaceflight aboard a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) is expected to happen somewhere around June 2019, while Boeing will send its spacecraft in August 2019, NASA said, as per an IANS report.
The timetable for both launches saw several delays in the past, but NASA said that it will now be providing monthly updates on deadlines.
“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,” Phil McAlister, director of Commercial Spaceflight Development at NASA, said, Phys.org reported. “These are new spacecraft, and the engineering teams have a lot of work to do before the systems will be ready to fly.”
Both missions are considering tests. The two astronauts transported in each flight will spend roughly two weeks aboard the orbiting ISS before returning to Earth.
In the long term, NASA will use SpaceX and Boeing to take astronauts to the ISS for regular missions, which could last for about six months.
First crewed mission by US
After the space shuttle retired in 2011, this will be the first crewed mission for the US. NASA astronauts currently use Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and its contract is set to expire in November 2019.
“For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had said while announcing the names of the astronauts, IANS reported.
In 2014, NASA gave Boeing and SpaceX a combined $6.8 billion in contracts to develop spacecraft that were capable of flying crews to the ISS. Earlier in August, NASA had named nine astronauts, which included Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams, for its first human spaceflight programme.
Boeing, SpaceX face delays
In August, the Verge reported delays in major test flights for Boeing and SpaceX. Following an engine test mishap, The report stated that Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner would likely perform two crucial test flights in 2019, instead of 2018. On the other hand, SpaceX aimed to fly its Crew Dragon for the first time later this year without people on board, and planned to test its first crewed flight in April 2019.
The report mentioned that as per the most recent timeline, Boeing’s Starliner was scheduled to take flight for the first time without a crew in August 2018. This was then to be followed by a crewed launch in November 2018. After the delay, Boeing expected the vehicle to conduct its uncrewed test flight either in late 2018 or in early 2019. Then, Boeing planned to conduct its first crewed test by mid-2019.
Since January 2018, SpaceX has been scheduled to do the first uncrewed test flight of its Crew Dragon in August, followed by a crewed flight in December 2018. However, the uncrewed test flight was slated to be conducted in November 2018, while SpaceX targeted the crewed flight for April.
How will the mission help NASA
The crewed flights will come after NASA conducts uncrewed missions. The first test flight, known as Demo 1, has been scheduled for December 2018, but the launch will occur in January 2019 in order to accommodate docking opportunities at the orbiting laboratory.
Boeing’s proposes to be ready for its Orbital Flight Test in March 2019, NASA said. Both Boeing and SpaceX have made commendable efforts in developing and operating a new generation of spacecraft, and launch systems in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme.
The success of both human spaceflight systems will be an unprecedented achievement for the commercial space industry and it will enable NASA to focus on deep space exploration with NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius