Report: More Delays Likely for Commercial Crew

A suit technician fits the communications carrier on an astronaut stand-in before pressurizing the spacesuit inside Crew Quarters at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Cory Huston)

Ars Technica is reporting today that further delays are likely on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program as Boeing and SpaceX work through technical issues on the Starliner and Crew Dragon, respectively.

Ars spoke to a handful of sources familiar with the commercial crew program this week, and all expressed pessimism about the public timelines the companies have for reaching the launch pad. According to this unofficial analysis, even a single crewed test flight in 2018 by either company now appears unlikely, as teams from both Boeing and SpaceX continue to work through significant technical issues.

Each company must perform two flight tests to the International Space Station and have its vehicle certified before beginning to fly NASA crews. The current schedule is below.

Targeted Flight Test Dates to International Space Station

  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (No Crew): November 2017
  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test (No Crew: June 2018
  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (Crew): May 2018
  • Boeing Crew Flight Test (Crew): August 2018

Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts in 2014 for the final phase of development and flight tests. Boeing is now officially running 16 months behind the schedule laid out in the contract for the first flight test. SpaceX is 20 months behind schedule for its flight test.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

In an audit released in September, the NASA Office of Inspector General said that technical problems and slowness in NASA’s review process were the cause of the delays. Delays during earlier phases of the program were caused by Congress failing to fully fund NASA’s requests, the audit found.

A sign of how badly the schedules are slipping can be seen in NASA’ public relations approach. The space agency is no longer trumpeting the completion of milestones with press releases and videos as it did during earlier stages of the Commercial Crew Program.

NASA has purchased seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for its astronauts through 2018. It is considering purchasing three seats for 2019 that Boeing obtained from Russia’s RSC Energia as part of the settlement of a lawsuit over Sea Launch.

The space agency is also considering purchasing single seats in 2017 and 2018 from Boeing so it can get an extra crew member aboard the space station.