SpaceX is heading to launch the first Crew Dragon ship on an unstoppable test flight to the International Space Station on January 7, NASA announced on Wednesday, a key moment in the agency's quest to end its reliance on Soyuz's Russian ships, astronauts of orbit.
If the shaking flight goes smoothly – and if a NASA safety probe revealed on Tuesday does not show any plugs, SpaceX may be ready to release the first Dragon pilot crew on top of the Falcon 9 rocket within June, bringing veteran astronauts NASA's Robert Bunck and Douglas Hurley to the space station.
Boeing also builds a spacecraft called CST-100 Starliner. An inexperienced test flight is planned for March – no specific date announced – followed by a pilot flight to the station in August. Boeing will use the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 missiles to steer a Starling spacecraft in orbit.
Both companies are still faced with different technical hurdles, and the dates are the best at a time.
Boeing has encountered problems with propulsion in the Starliner deployment system and is behind key test schedules while SpaceX faces "serious hardship," according to NASA's Aviation and Space Committee, including concerns about high-pressure helium tanks, used in racing and parachutes with the Dragon crew.
SpaceX officials, however, say the company is about to launch in January, and that the hardware processing, crew training and ground support training are ongoing as planned.
Nevertheless, NASA managers hope that one or both companies will be certified to start operational rotor flight operations in the next year, ending the reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft agency, the only available transport for American, European , Canadian and Japanese astronauts. retirement of the space shuttle in 2011
The unmanned Crew Dragon flight, released in January, known as Demo-1 in the SpaceX Space Quest, will begin from the historic 39A pad at the Kennedy Space Center. Exit volume is expected around 11:57. EST (GMT-5) when Earth rotation transfers the pad to the plane of the station's orbit.
Once released from the Falcon 9 juices, the spacecraft is expected to hold an autonomous meeting with the International Space Station and land in the laboratory of the recently modified port terminal where the shuttles are once fitted. After a short stay, the capsule will unlock and return to Earth with an ocean invasion.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that NASA has launched a major review of "safety cultures" for both Boeing and SpaceX. In a statement NASA said the review aims to "ensure that companies meet NASA's safety requirements at work, including adherence to a drug-free environment."
"We fully expect our trading partners to meet all safety requirements at the workplace in the implementation of our missions and the services they provide to the American people," the statement said. – As always, NASA will make sure they do it.
By mail, citing sources, it was reported that the review was partly due to the recent behavior of"after taking a hit of marijuana and sipping whiskey on a podcast stream on the internet."
A SpaceX spokesman told CBS News that the human space flight "is the core mission of our company," and "SpaceX is nothing more important than this endeavor."
"We take seriously the responsibility that NASA has entrusted to us to carry safe and reliable American astronauts to and from the International Space Station," he said. "For years, our engineers have worked together with NASA to create a strong partnership and lead the Dragon crew, one of the safest and most advanced human space systems ever created."
He said the company actively promotes workplace safety and managers are confident that "our comprehensive workplace and workplace programs go beyond all applicable contractual requirements."
A Boeing spokesman said that the company's culture "guarantees the integrity, safety and quality of our products, our people and their working environment." As a reliable NASA partner since the beginning of the human space flight, we share the same values and commit by continuing our legacy of trust, openness and success in the mission. "
The commercial crew program has grown from a NASA-sponsored race that began in 2011 and ended in September 2014 when the agency announced that Boeing and SpaceX would receive $ 6.8 billion to develop independent space taxis, the first new crew from a US spacecraft.
SpaceX builds the Dragon crew under a $ 2.6 billion contract. SpaceX also has NASA contracts worth more than $ 2 billion for 20 space cargo missions using non-privileged Dragon Capsules. The subsequent contract for an indefinite amount covers six more cargo fields.
Boeing received a $ 4.2 billion contract for the CST-100 Starliner. Unlike the Dragon crew, Starliner will use parachutes and landing airbags in the western states.