NASA continues to develop systems that will return human spaceflight to the United States. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and private industry partners Boeing and SpaceX focus on systems for the return of human spaceflight; both partners were undertaking a considerable amount of testing in 2018. The test will be done to show their ability to meet NASA’s mission and safety demands for the regular crew flight to the International Space station.
The work Boeing and SpaceX are doing is incredible. Getting it right is the most important thing. – Kathy Lueders, program manager NASA Commercial Crew Program.
Prior to the test flights with a crew onboard, Boeing and SpaceX plan to fly test missions without any crew to the space station. After each test flight, NASA will certify the system and begin a post-certification crew rotation mission. The current flight for commercial crew rotation systems provides about six months to begin a regular post-certification crew rotation mission to the International Space Station before the Soyuz Flights end in the fall of 2019.
NASA is set to explore multiple scenarios for potential schedule adjustments to ensure the access of the United States to the space station. The duration of the upcoming flight test with the crew targeted for the end of 2018 on Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon would be extended. It could be extended longer than the current two weeks planned for test flights, which are likely to be less than its full six-month mission. Evaluation will be done by the agency on whether there is a need for another crew member on the flight tests or not.
The expansion of the scope of test flights is not the first time; NASA had SpaceX carry cargo on its commercial demonstration flight to the International Space Station in 2012, which was not part of the original agreement. Such a decision by NASA allowed it to ensure that the crew aboard the space station had the equipment, food and other supplies needed on the station after the end of the agency’s Space Shuttle Program.
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As according to the plan the options are to receive safety and engineering reviews by the agency. NASA is to make decisions on these options within the next few months.