SpaceX and Boeing have suffered another setback in their quests to dock the first commercially built spacecraft at the International Space Station. NASA announced on Wednesday that the first test launches of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner have been delayed once again so they can undergo further testing. This makes this the third month in a row that the Crew Dragon’s test launch has been pushed back.
SpaceX is now looking to launch the Crew Dragon for its unmanned Demo-1 test flight on March 2nd. Meanwhile, Boeing is looking to postpone its unmanned Orbital Flight Test for the Starliner until April.
According to NASA, these delays will allow engineers to complete crucial hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of flight controllers and mission managers.
If the tests go smoothly, it will be the first time in history that a commercially built spacecraft will dock at the International Space Station. If both commercial spacecraft successfully pass the test flights they will replace the Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the ISS. Since the Space Shuttle program ended, NASA has relied on the Soyuz to bring astronauts to and from orbit.
If the tests are completed successfully, it will pave the way for a manned Crew Dragon flight in July and a crewed test flight for Starliner in August.
Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager said in the statement:
“The uncrewed flight tests are a great dry run for not only our hardware but for our team to get ready for our crewed flight tests. NASA has been working together with SpaceX and Boeing to make sure we are ready to conduct these test flights and get ready to learn critical information that will further help us to fly our crews safely. We always learn from tests.”
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is still undergoing testing by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security that provides the U.S. government with launch services. They are also testing the Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s commercial spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
In January, SpaceX had a successful test of its Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon atop at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida in preparation for Demo-1.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program hopes to return human spaceflight launches to U.S. turf this year.