Boeing has delayed the first crewed flight of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle until early 2018, later than NASA’s original deadline, because of a series of technical issues and new requirements that the company argues are typical for an aerospace development program.
An independent safety panel warns that “a continuing and unacknowledged accretion of risk” in NASA’s human space exploration programs, caused by schedule pressures and flat funding, could put crews on future missions in jeopardy.
As NASA continues to advocate for full funding of its commercial crew program in 2016, the agency is seeking flexibility for the program in an upcoming short-term spending bill to avoid the risk of further delays.
Boeing has renamed the CST-100 spacecraft it is developing for NASA’s commercial crew program the CST-100 Starliner, the company announced Sept. 4.
NASA formally notified Congress Aug. 5 that it is issuing a $490 million extension of an existing contract to purchase Soyuz seats from the Russian space agency, saying that it was forced to do so because of cuts in the agency’s commercial crew program.
While acknowledging delays in interim milestones for its two commercial crew contracts, NASA officials said July 28 they still require the full funding requested for 2016 to avoid delays in the overall program.
NASA announced July 9 it has selected four veteran astronauts to train for test flights on commercial crew vehicles under development by Boeing and SpaceX.
NASA and SpaceX plan to postpone an in-flight abort test of the crewed version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft until after an orbital test flight, a decision they say is not linked to the June 28 Falcon 9 launch failure still in the early phases of its investigation.
Despite warnings from NASA that any cuts to commercial crew funding would delay the program, Senate appropriators slashed nearly $350 million from the agency’s request because they believed the program was already suffering delays.
“The commercial space sector is vital in contributing to our space industrial base, but the demonstrated growth and capabilities come with the need to readdress the regulatory framework for this sector,” writes Commercial Spaceflight Federation President Eric Stallmer.
Nearly six months after winning high-profile NASA contracts, the two companies developing commercial crew transportation systems are still in some sense competing with each other, playing up their strengths and highlighting the other’s perceived weaknesses.