NASA announced today that SpaceX, Boeing, and NASA have agreed to move back the target dates for their uncrewed test launches by about a month.
Delayed Uncrewed Test Flights for SpaceX, Boeing
NASA says the new date for the test launch of SpaceX’s Dragon Crew capsule, originally scheduled for the beginning of February will be pushed back to March 2nd.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is still undergoing preparation for its Orbital Test Flight and United Launch Alliance is in the final processing stage of its Atlas V rocket, both expected to be ready for flight testing in April.
According to a statement from NASA, “These adjustments allow for completion of necessary hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of flight controllers and mission managers.”
The two initial test flights by SpaceX and Boeing will be unmanned, dry runs to test the complete cycle of launch, docking with the International Space Station (ISS) for several weeks, and the final parachute-enabled splashdown in the ocean upon its return.
Delay The Latest in Several So Far for SpaceX's Demo-1
SpaceX’s unmanned test flight, named Demo-1, was originally scheduled to launch on January 7th of this year, but NASA announced in December 2018 that the flight would need to be pushed back 10 days to January 17th. Congestion at the ISS was partially to blame, according to their announcement.
Then, in January, NASA announced a further delay, saying that “NASA and SpaceX are now targeting no earlier than February for the launch of Demo-1 to complete hardware testing and joint reviews.” This was in the middle of the partial US Government shutdown last month, which shuttered much of NASA's non-essential operations for the duration, though NASA officials made no mention of this in their statement.
NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which is responsible for coordinating between commercial space companies and NASA, is said to have been working through January to prepare for the launches.
Kathy Lueders, the Program Manager for Commercial Crew, said “NASA has been working together with SpaceX and Boeing to make sure we are ready to conduct these test flights and get ready to learn critical information that will further help us to fly our crews safely.”
NASA Hopes For Returning Manned Space Flight to US Soil
Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, no American launch system of any kind was available to take US astronauts into space and has relied on the Russian space agency’s Soyuz spacecraft for manned space flights to the ISS.
NASA is hoping that SpaceX and Boeing can fill the gap for them while they work on the agency’s own Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System, an upgraded rocket from what the agency has used in the past. NASA expects this system to be ready sometime next decade.
As of now, the updated crew rosters and schedule released by the agency has NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the first manned test flight, SpaceX's Demo-2, scheduled for July of this year, and NASA's Nicole Mann and E. Michael Fincke, along with Boeing's Chris Ferguson, who are expected to launch sometime in August.