NASA has set August 2018 as the schedule of its first unmanned mission under its commercial space flight program, with Boeing and Space Exploration Corporation.
The next generation of spacecrafts that will carry American astronauts to the International Space Station and back are in the final stages of development and evaluation.
Early this month, NASA posted a video on Twitter detailing the progress of its preparations for the commercial spaceflight program.
Boeing And SpaceX
Both its commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX have accomplished a series of tests for parachute deployment, flight simulation, abort engine, spacesuit, crew evaluation, flight control, and emergency escape.
Boeing's CST-100 Starliner that will launch on ULA Atlas V can carry a seven-man crew and space load to and from low-Earth orbit. The Crew Dragon space capsule manufactured by SpaceX will use for the first time its SuperDraco thrusters and will launch on Falcon 9.
Both spacecrafts are undergoing continuous, rigorous qualification testings to pass NASA's safety standards.
NASA said commercial space technology providers Boeing and SpaceX are almost in the final stages of development and evaluation of the new spacecrafts and rockets.
"To meet NASA's requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions," said NASA's Anna Heiney.
Race To Space
NASA said uncrewed flights and demonstration missions will commence August this year, while manned demonstration flights will take place in November and December.
For Boeing, the target orbital uncrewed flight test of spacecraft Starliners will take place in August, with a crewed flight test on November. As with SpaceX, the uncrewed demonstration of Dragon will follow Boeing's uncrewed flight, while a second demonstration mission in December will carry NASA's chosen personnel.
Both Boeing and SpaceX have missed their target schedules for the program last year, delaying the actual schedule of the initial flight launch, which was originally targeted by NASA for April 2018.
The House Science Committee's space subcommittee will discuss the status of the NASA commercial crew program on Jan. 17. Members of the Government Accountability Office and NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel along with Boeing and SpaceX executives are expected to testify.
Commercial Flight Program
An estimate of $50 million was spent by NASA for its commercial flight program that started in 2010. NASA has always relied on buying seats from the Russian spacecraft Soyuz to transport astronauts and crew to the International Space Station.
NASA and the commercial spacecraft companies will soon officially announce the names of the crew that will fly its missions.