Will Commercial Crew Come Through in 2018?

by Douglas Messier

Managing Editor

The last time Americans flew into space from U.S. soil was nearly seven years ago in July 2011. Four astronauts flew Atlantis to the International Space Station  (ISS) on the 135th and final mission of the 30-year space shuttle program.

Ever since, NASA astronauts have been hitching rides to ISS aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft at an ever increasing cost that comes with having a monopoly. Meanwhile, the space agency has watched the schedules for the two commercial crew vehicles being developed by Boeing and SpaceX slide to the right year by year.

This is the year all that is supposed to change. Both companies are scheduled to fly automated and crew test flights to the space station. The question is will they?

Here’s the latest official schedule from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program:

  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (no crew): April 2018
  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crew): August 2018
  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test (no crew): August 2018
  • Boeing Crew Flight Test: November 2018

Providing the flights go well, the vehicles would be certified to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis a couple of months after the crew tests. Commercial flights could begin by the end of the year or early 2019. Sounds pretty good, huh?

Well, maybe. NASA updates these schedules about once a quarter, at which point both providers usually slip a quarter or so. And this schedule hasn’t been updated in a while.

There is some indication that the flight tests have already slipped. Spaceflight101 reports that NASA’s ISS schedule indicates the following:

  • SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1 (no crew): August 2018
  • Space Demonstration Mission 2 (crew): No Earlier Than December 2018
  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test (no crew): August 2018
  • Boeing Crew Flight Test: No Earlier Than December 2018

We’ll see what happens. Time is of the essence. NASA has only purchased seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft through mid-2019. Any further slips would come ever closer to that deadline.