NASA needs a way to get astronauts to the International Space Station that doesn’t involve paying Russia heaps of money, so it struck deals with both SpaceX and Boeing to build crew capsules capable of fulfilling that need. Earlier this month, SpaceX successfully sent its Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station, paving the way for crew tests to be conducted within months, but what about Boeing?
A new report from Reuters suggests that Boeing is having a much, much harder time getting its Starliner spacecraft ready for its first big test. Boeing, which analysts thought would beat SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to delivery by a significant margin, has now reportedly pushed back its maiden flight to the space station by several months, and the first crewed flights won’t happen until close to the end of the year, if they happen in 2019 at all.
The report, which cites unnamed sources, claims that the first unmanned test flight of Starliner has been delayed by three months. Adjusting the timeline based on that new information, Boeing’s first crewed flight of the spacecraft wouldn’t be ready until November, and that’s assuming everything goes perfectly from here on out.
Both Crew Dragon and Starliner have been plagued by delays over the past couple of years, forcing NASA to strike new deals with Russian space agency Roscosmos to fly NASA crew members to the ISS and back. The clock is ticking, and right now it’s clear that SpaceX is much closer to delivering NASA much-needed crew-capable spacecraft than Boeing is.
In the meantime, NASA is doing its best to prepare for a worst-case scenario in which one or potentially both programs fail to deliver before the end of 2019. The agency is mulling the decision to throw more money at Russia to ensure its astronauts can make it to the ISS throughout 2019 and into 2020, but no decisions have been finalized as of yet.