Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana will join NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Boeing and SpaceX officials to make the crew announcement. And it's now apparent that SpaceX is slightly ahead-it will conduct a crewed test flight in April of next year, while Boeing's crewed test is only scheduled for "mid-2019".
The agency released the revised schedule with little fanfare ahead of a planned August 3 announcement at the Johnson Space Center of the astronauts that will fly the two companies' crewed demonstration missions, as well as on the first post-certification, or operational, missions by each company.
"NASA's Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to US soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements", said the official blog.
To that effect, the space agency is getting ready to appoint the crew of the first manned missions to test the CST-100 Starliner (pictured left in the photo above) and the Crew Dragon (imaged right) capsules, NASA disclosed in a news release. NASA partnered with Boeing and SpaceX to develop the Starliner spacecraft to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and the Crew Dragon launching atop the Falcon 9 rocket, respectively.
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Two companies have NASA contracts to provide flights to the ISS between 2019 and 2024: SpaceX and Boeing (ba).
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"I really have no visibility into SpaceX progress or the fidelity of the SpaceX schedule", he said.
"And NASA will be the anchor tenant", said scientist in residence John Charles at Space Center Houston. Since the shuttle fleet's retirement in 2011, the only spaceship cleared for carrying people to the station has been Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, and the ticket price for NASA is in the range of $80 million a seat.
The setback means the first crewed test flight will be pushed back to the middle of 2019, he said.
Last month, news broke that Starliner's launch-abort engines cut off during a test fire's cool-down phase.
During the manned tests, the astronauts will be able to use the displays inside the spacecraft, communicate with mission control and practise manual controls during flight. Starliner and Crew Dragon will dock and undock autonomously to the space station before returning the crew safely home. That resulted in a leak of toxic hypergolic propellant, but no damage to the hardware and no injuries to the test team, he said.
Each company must launch an uncrewed test flight and then a crewed test flight prior to certification by NASA for the vehicles to begin operational flights.