NASA sets dates for commercial crew capsule launches
NASA has announced the dates for the first flights of the commercial manned space capsules that will be used to ferry astronauts from the United States to the International Space Station (ISS). The planned eight launches of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner to be conducted between January and December of 2019 include unmanned orbital tests, launch pad abort tests, manned flights, and the first operational missions to the station.
The NASA Commercial Crew Program has seen a number of setbacks and delays, but it looks as though the United States will be getting back into the manned spaceflight business for the first time since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. The goal of the program is to encourage a number of businesses to build and operate astronaut-carrying spacecraft that will take over the job of ferrying crews from US soil to the ISS while the space agency concentrates of manned deep space missions to the Moon and Mars.
Artist’s concept of the CST-100 Starliner
Under their contracts, both SpaceX and Boeing must demonstrate that their capsules and launch systems are both safe and flight ready. To do this, the companies will each carry out an unmanned flight test. The SpaceX flight, called Demo-1, will lift off on January 7, 2019, while Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test will be in March.
The next phase will be to demonstrate how the companies can handle a launch emergency on the pad or in early flight, so they will conduct unmanned Abort Tests at yet to be determined dates. However, the first manned flights by SpaceX, called Demo-2, will be in June, while Boeing will follow with its Crew Flight Test in August.
If the tests are successful and the craft pass a review and certification, the first operational missions will take place for SpaceX in August and Boeing in December 2019.