For several years, NASA and its private enterprise partners have been working on the space agency's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to provide an astronaut ferry service from US soil to the International Space Station (ISS). Now a panel from NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX has outlined the latest timetable leading up to the first commercial flights.
The two companies were selected last year by NASA to develop privately owned and operated US spacecraft to ferry crews to the ISS.. When certified, the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceXDragon V.2 (AKA Crew Dragon) will be able to travel to and from the ISS carrying up to seven passengers or a mixture of passengers and cargo. Being capable of remaining on station for 210 days, they will double as lifeboats; allowing ISS crews to expand to seven people. According to NASA, the extra crew will allow the time available for scientific experiments to grow from 40 to 80 hours per week.
When fully deployed, Boeing and SpaceX will provide NASA with two independent systems for sending astronauts back and forth from the ISS. However, unlike during the Space race when companies would develop spacecraft in conjunction with NASA, which the latter would operate, the two companies retain ownership of the craft and are responsible for the development, launching, and operation of the vehicles, boosters, and recovery systems.
On Monday, NASA and its partners outlined the next phases of the CCP. Boeing will continue development of its manned capsule with a pad abort test scheduled for February 2017, an unmanned flight test in April 2017, and then a flight with a Boeing test pilot and a NASA astronaut in July 2017. Meanwhile, SpaceX has announced a pad abort test for next month, with an in-flight abort test later this year, an unmanned flight test in late 2016, and a manned flight test in early 2017.
During this process, NASA says that it is providing oversight to make certain that the two systems meet stringent safety standards, as well as the use of launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.