Crucial first tests for the passenger spacecraft being developed by Boeing and SpaceX have been delayed once again. There was an engine mishap on the run-up to the Boeing tests which caused the delay. It’s very likely now that the planned tests for the Boeing CST-100 will be performed sometime next year instead of this year as earlier planned. On the other hand, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is expected to take its first flight tests without a crew later this year. Flights with crew members inside won’t begin until 2019.
SpaceX and Boeing are developing a passenger spacecraft as part of the Commercial Crew program by NASA. The program is an initiative designed to send humans commercially into the international space station through a privately owned spacecraft. Boeing is developing an initial passenger craft dubbed the CST-100 that has the capacity to carry seven passengers. The craft will travel on top of an Atlas V rocket.
On the other hand, SpaceX is updating its Dragon Cargo spacecraft in order to repurpose it for space travel. The Dragon spacecraft will also have the capacity to carry seven passengers. NASA insists that in order for the spacecraft to be considered operational, it will need to do two flight tests, one with a crew and one without. The Boeing Starliner was supposed to take its first test flight in August this year. This would have been the crewless flight. The company had planned to then follow this up with a crew test flight later in November this year. However, it looks like this is not possible yet.
According to Boeing, the current timeline shows that the first crewless test will be done later this year. If the first test fails, the company is confident that it will be able to try it again in early 2019. But it’s not the first time that these tests have been delayed so we aren’t ruling out that planned dates based on this timeline could also change in the coming months. Boeing also said that it will test an additional launch pad abort system in the summer for the Starliner. The abort system is designed to protect passengers in case there’s an issue with the launch pad.
The current delay appears to be caused by engine failures. Boeing said that even though the engines worked just fine during the launch, they failed to close down as required. The company added that two out of the four-engine valves didn’t close and posed a possible risk to the craft due to leakages in the propellant. The company said that its main focus now is to fix this issue before any other tests are rescheduled.
On the other hand, SpaceX’s initial plan was to begin crewless flights in January this year before testing the crafts with crew members in December. None of these things have been done yet. The company hasn’t clearly stated why the delays have happened but it’s very likely that issues of engine failure may have played a part.