SpaceX, Boeing (and NASA) Push Back 1st Test Launches of Private Spaceships

Olive Hawkins
February 7, 2019

The Crew Dragon and Starliner spacecraft are the centerpieces of NASA's drive to resume launching US astronauts aboard USA rockets from US soil, ending the agency's sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry crew members to and from the International Space Station.

NASA and SpaceX are now aiming for a March debut of the first capsule from a private company created to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. Starliner was scheduled to perform a similar mission in March. This is the third month in a row that NASA has announced a further delay for the first major test flight of Crew Dragon. If the demo goes well, two NASA astronauts will take a test flight in July aboard the SpaceX capsule.

NASA is paying SpaceX and Boeing to provide the capsules and fly astronauts to and from the space station, allowing the space agency to focus on developing a new capsule, Orion, and rocket, Space Launch System or SLS, for transporting astronauts to the moon and, eventually, Mars.

SpaceX, though, has been making progress, including rolling out the Crew Dragon spacecraft atop its Falcon 9 rocket to Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in early January for tests.

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In a statement, NASA said that the initial uncrewed test flight by SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, previously scheduled for no earlier February 23, was now scheduled for no earlier than March 2. SpaceX created the Dragon 2, which will fly to the station in two modifications, Crew Dragon 2 and Cargo Dragon 2 based on the original Dragon spacecraft. The rocket performed a static fire test on the pad January 24 that the company said was successful. The test flight had been planned for mid June, but sources say it's now targeted for July.

Another US spacecraft planned to be launched to the ISS, the Starliner, is being built by Boeing. The Starliner will blast off from pad 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, riding into space atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Unlike the Crew Dragon, the Starliner is created to land in the western United States using parachutes and airbags. Both craft will then have to perform abort tests and a test mission with crew aboard.

Boeing's first uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner vehicle, previously scheduled for March, is now expected no earlier than April. That should clear the way for Boeing to launch a three-person crew - company astronaut Chris Ferguson, a former shuttle commander, and NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann - in late August. Operational flights will begin sometime thereafter, assuming everything goes well.

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