NASA officials have confirmed that both SpaceX and Boeing commercial crew test flights have been delayed. The revised dates shift all four test flights to between January and August 2019.
The revised schedule for commercial crew test flights was published on the programme’s official blog page. The revised schedule will see Boeing launch their Starliner uncrewed test flight in March 2019 and the crewed flight in August. SpaceX remains on schedule to beat Boeing to the flag with their uncrewed Crew Dragon 2 demo flight slipping to January 2019 followed by a crewed launch in June.
With the revised test flights, NASA released the anticipated readiness dates for operational missions. The first operational mission is currently scheduled for August 2019, likely aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon 2. However, NASA officials stressed that “as with all human spaceflight development, learning from each test and adjusting as necessary to reduce risk to the crew may override planning dates.”
In a statement published along with the revised test flight schedule, the director of Commercial Spaceflight Development at NASA Headquarters, Phil McAlister explained that more concrete schedules will likely follow soon.
“As we get closer to launching human spacecraft from the U.S., we can be more precise in our schedules,” said McAlister. “This allows our technical teams to work efficiently toward the most up-to-date schedules while allowing us to provide regular updates publicly on the progress of our commercial crew partners.”
With the success of the commercial crew programme, the United States will again have the ability to launch crewed missions to space. The country has spent the better part of a decade relying on Russia to launch their astronauts aboard Soyuz vehicles following the cancellation of the shuttle programme in 2011. Reacquiring the ability to launch crews from US shores is a primary goal for NASA and is the first step in the agency’s plans to return to the Moon and conquer Mars.