Spacex and Boeing should fly manned crews to the space station starting in 2017

American spacecraft systems testing followed by increasingly complex flight tests and ultimately astronauts flying orbital flights will pave the way to operational missions during the next few years to the International Space Station. Those were the plans laid out Monday by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program officials and partners as they focus on developing safe, reliable and cost-effective spacecraft and systems that will take astronauts to the station from American launch complexes.

According to Boeing, the company’s schedule calls for a pad abort test in February 2017, followed by an uncrewed flight test in April 2017, then a flight with a Boeing test pilot and a NASA astronaut in July 2017.

SpaceX said they anticipate a pad abort test in about a month, then an in-flight abort test later this year as part of its previous development phase. An uncrewed flight test is planned for late 2016 and a crewed flight test in early 2017.

SpaceX and Boeing have both completed the first milestones in their plans to send humans into space. SpaceX’s goal is to fly over 50 Falcon 9 missions before attempting the first crewed launch in early 2017. Those missions will accommodate four crew members with space for cargo.

Speaking for the first time together since the awarding of the final development and certification contracts, officials from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing and SpaceX revealed some of the details of their plans to cross the chasm from spacecraft and launch system design to flight tests, certification and operational missions to the station.

“It’s an incredible testament to American ingenuity and know-how, and an extraordinary validation of the vision we laid out just a few years ago as we prepared for the long-planned retirement of the space shuttle,” said Charlie Bolden, NASA administrator, during the briefing at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This work is part of a vital strategy to equip our nation with the technologies for the future and inspire a new generation of explorers to take the next giant leap for America.”

Boeing and SpaceX were selected in September 2014 to finalize their respective CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft along with the rockets that will lift them into orbit and all of the ground and mission operations networks essential for safe flights. Both companies have worked with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program throughout multiple development phases, continuing to advance their designs before being chosen to complete their systems, reach certification and then fly astronauts to the station.

The goal of NASA’s effort is to provide an American launch vehicle and spacecraft capable of safely carrying astronauts to the station. Unlike other NASA spacecraft, though, this new generation of human-rated vehicles will be designed, built, operated and owned by the companies themselves, not NASA. NASA will buy space transportation services from the companies for astronauts and powered cargo. It will be an arrangement like the one the agency uses already with the Commercial Resupply Services initiative that uses privately developed and operated rockets and spacecraft to deliver critical cargo to the station.

“There are launch pads out there already being upgraded and there is hardware already being delivered,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of the Kennedy Space Center-based Commercial Crew Program. “Both companies have already accomplished their first milestones.”

The new spacecraft will allow the station’s crew to expand to seven astronauts and cosmonauts, which means twice as much time for research aboard the one-of-a-kind scientific platform – 80 hours a week instead of the current 40. Also, the handoff of flight to low-Earth orbit will permit NASA to pursue the challenges of deep space exploration and the journey to Mars with the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.

Boeing and SpaceX each proposed a set of objectives and milestones.

SOURCES – spacex, nasa, the Verge

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