In September last year, NASA's Commercial Crew Program has awarded Boeing and SpaceX with contracts to build vessels that would ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
At an event conducted at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday, Jan. 26, representatives from the two companies have said that they have completed the initial milestones of building the first American crew transport vehicles in decades and are on track to begin transporting NASA astronauts to the ISS by 2017.
The U.S. space agency has retired its space shuttle program in 2011 and has since depended on Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, to get its astronauts into low Earth orbit at a cost of $71 million per seat.
Once SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Boeing's CST-100, the so-called space taxis that will bring astronauts to and from the low-Earth orbit station, are ready for launch, the U.S. will stop relying on Russians for its crew transport missions into the ISS.
The space taxis are expected to start making manned trips as early as 2017 and Boeing and SpaceX are anticipated to charge $58 million on average for each of the seat.
"I don't ever want to write another check to Roscosmos after 2017," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden. "If we can make that date, I'll be a happy camper."
Both SpaceX and Boeing will conduct a series of tests for their space taxis from this year until 2017 to ensure that the launch systems are in good shape prior to their spacecraft making their first official flight to and from the ISS.
SpaceX plans to launch its first abort test for its spacecraft as early as next month and this will be followed by a second test later this year. The tests, which are designed to exhibit how its Dragon capsule would respond should there be problems during liftoff, may be followed by an uncrewed test flight late next year.
Boeing, on the other hand, should start with many of its tests flights three years from now with the first uncrewed flight to the ISS set for launch in April 2017. Boeing Space Exploration Vice President John Elbon said that CST-100's first crewed flight should occur in July 2017.
"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," Bolden said.