NASA is enthusiastic about bringing crewed space launches back to American soil very soon, and with the help of its Commercial Crew program, at least two significant contenders are working on International Space Station-compatible spacecraft that will fly atop rockets and send astronauts into space. Those two contenders are Boeing and SpaceX – the former with its Starliner spacecraft, and the latter with its Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Image Credit: Boeing
NASA’s stringent safety requirements necessitate that both Commercial Crew partners demonstrate the reliability and safety of their transportation platforms before any humans set foot into them for space travel, and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon appeared to perform rather well in its first un-crewed test launch before an anomalous fire broke out inside the spacecraft during routine testing later on. SpaceX since made refinements to its platform and intends to move forward with a crewed demonstration launch in the near future.
Boeing, on the other hand, has yet to conduct any test launches of its Starliner spacecraft for NASA, primarily because the spacecraft wasn’t quite ready yet. Fortunately, that appears to have changed, and Boeing now claims that Starliner is ready to tackle its first Commercial Crew Program-centric demonstration test for NASA.
Representatives from both Boeing and NASA met just this past Thursday to discuss un-crewed test launch circumstances, and as it would seem, they’ve opted not to waste any time. Both parties have apparently agreed to a December 20th test launch, ensuring that Boeing will demonstrate its platform in the first phase of testing before the year’s end.
"Hopefully, we should all be getting an early Christmas present this year," said NASA’s commercial spaceflight development director Phil McAlister with regard to the exciting news.
Boeing has a long track record of successes when it comes to aerospace engineering, and with that in mind, we don’t expect many hiccups or anomalies from the company’s Starliner spacecraft. Assuming they do pass with flying colors, both Boeing and SpaceX both will still need to conduct faultless crewed test launches in 2020 if they’re to get NASA’s green light for crewed International Space Station missions.
It’s worth noting that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon platform rides atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, while Boeing’s Starliner platform rides atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in comparison. It will indeed be interesting to compare the test launches of Boeing and SpaceX and see which platform performs most reliably.