Boeing andhope to launch commercial crew ferry ships on long-awaited test flights later this year, but both companies face major challenges getting the spacecraft certified before late 2019 when seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft will no longer be easily available for NASA space station crews, officials told lawmakers Wednesday.
And whenever they do eventually fly, the companies may not be able to meet NASA’s stringent flight safety requirements. The agency wants the new spacecraft to have only one chance in 500 of losing a crew during ascent and entry, and an overall 1-in-200 chance of fatalities due to a spacecraft issue during a 210-day mission to the station.
“The panel has been monitoring the providers’ progress in working toward the LOC (loss of crew) requirements, and it appears that neither provider will achieve 1-in-500 for ascent/entry and will be challenged to meet the overall mission requirement of 1-in-200,” Patricia Sanders, chairman of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, or ASAP, told the House Subcommittee on Space.
Since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, NASA has relied on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the space station at more than $80 million a seat under the most recent contract. But in 2014,to end the agency’s sole reliance on the Russians.
Boeing won a $4.2 billion contract to develop the CST-100 Starliner capsule while SpaceX won a separate $2.6 billion to build its Dragon crew craft. Both companies initially promised test flights in 2016 and 2017, but funding shortfalls in Congress slowed development.
Boeing now hopes to launch the first Starliner spacecraft atop an Atlas 5 rocket on an unpiloted test flight in late August, following by a crewed…