American astronauts could be stranded without a way to get to and from the International Space Station, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report has warned.
It warns NASA needs a backup plan for getting astronauts to space, given additional delays on the horizon for new commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX
Both companies have been aiming for test flights by the end of this year, but the GAO says further delays are likely.
A mockup of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. The U.S. Government Accountability Office said NASA needs a backup plan for getting astronauts to space, given additional delays on the horizon for new commercial crew capsules.
WHEN COULD THE CAPSULES LAUNCH?
The development programs for both companies’ capsules have been delayed several times, with each currently expecting to complete uncrewed test launches in August at the earliest.
NASA was expected to certify Boeing in December 2019 and January in 2020, according to analysis earlier this year, but the GAO says further delays are expected.
The existing timeline already causes a one month gap, at minimum, in NASA’s contracts for seats with Russia and the first launches of Boeing and SpaceX.
If postponements keep mounting, the GAO fears there could be a gap in U.S. access to the International Space Station.
‘Further delays are likely as the Commercial Crew Program’s schedule risk analysis shows that the certification milestone is likely to slip,’ the GAO said in the report.
‘Additional delays could result in a gap in U.S. access to the space station as NASA has contracted for seats on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft only through November 2019,’ the report says.
NASA ‘does not have a contingency plan for ensuring uninterrupted U.S. access.’
When asked abut the potential problem, the GAO report claims ‘NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations stated that he is ‘brainstorming’ other options to ensure access to the ISS but does not have a formal plan.’
With its last shuttle flight seven years ago this month, NASA has been paying Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station. But that contract is up at the end of 2019.
‘Senior NASA officials told us that sustaining a U.S. presence on the ISS is essential to maintain and operate integral systems, without which the ISS cannot function,’ the GAO said.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (pictured) stands in front of the firm’s manned spacecraft, the Dragon V2, in 2014. The aircraft is designed to ferry astronauts into space
It was hoped SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, along with Boeing’s Starliner, were set to begin ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station within months.
Elon Musk’s space firm has revealed its capsule has already been delivered to NASA for its first, unmanned, test mission.
‘Crew Dragon is at @NASA’s Plum Brook Station testing facility in Ohio, home to the largest thermal vacuum chamber in the world, to demonstrate its capability to withstand the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space,’ it said on Instagram.
WHAT IS ELON MUSK’S CREW DRAGON?
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon being loaded into NASA’s Plum Brook Station testing facility in Ohio, home to the largest thermal vacuum chamber in the world, to demonstrate its capability to withstand the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space
The capsule measures about 20 feet tall by 12 feet in diameter, and will carry up to 7 astronauts at a time.
The Crew Dragon features an advanced emergency escape system (which was tested earlier this year) to swiftly carry astronauts to safety if something were to go wrong, experiencing about the same G-forces as a ride at Disneyland.
It also has an Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) that provides a comfortable and safe environment for crew members.
Crew Dragon’s displays will provide real-time information on the state of the spacecraft’s capabilities, showing everything from Dragon’s position in space, to possible destinations, to the environment on board.
Crew Dragon’s displays will provide real-time information on the state of the spacecraft’s capabilities, showing everything from Dragon’s position in space, to possible destinations
Those CRS-2 Dragon missions will use ‘propulsive’ landings, where the capsule lands on a landing pad using its SuperDraco thrusters rather than splashing down in the ocean.
That will allow NASA faster access to the cargo returned by those spacecraft, and also build up experience for propulsive landings of crewed Dragon spacecraft.
‘Once complete, Crew Dragon will travel to Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of its first flight,’ he added.
However, it is still unknown when the Dragon Crew will blast off.
The project, part of NASA’s Commercial Crew scheme, will see both Boeing and SpaceX launch unmanned craft first.
‘I think we’re going to get the [uncrewed] demo flights probably by the end of the year, maybe a little after that . . . and then the crew demo missions next year,’ Commercial Crew astronaut Suni Williams recently said.
BOEING’S STARLINER SPACE TAXI
The Starliner is part of NASA’s operational Commercial Crew mission to bring astronauts to the International Space Station.
It will be launched from a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and manned tests are set to begin in 2018.
The Starliner will be launched from a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and is part of NASA’s operational Commercial Crew mission to bring astronauts to the International Space Station, allowing it to grow to seven residents
The missions will be able to take up to four astronauts at a time, with Eric Boe, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Sunni Williams now in training.
In February, it was revealed that Boeing has hired a small company to make about 600 3D-printed parts for its Starliner space taxis.