Please Stand By: Commercial Space Bus To The ISS Experiencing Technical Difficulties, Expect Delays

Two space travel companies developing commercial craft to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station are experiencing technical difficulties that might delay their flight schedule until at least 2018.

Funding shortfalls and technical issues continue to plague both Boeing and SpaceX, meaning their commercial space bus vehicles won’t be available for travel anytime soon, according to a report by NASA’s Office of the Inspector General.

Boeing is building its CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX is working on its Crew Dragon capsule; if neither is completed on time NASA will be forced to fly astronauts aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The report says Boeing and SpaceX have both failed to meet a number of significant milestones and cancelled important test flights for their commercial spacecraft, according to SpaceNews.

“While past funding shortfalls have contributed to the delay, technical challenges are now driving schedule slippages. Notwithstanding the contractors’ optimism, based on the information we gathered during our audit, we believe it unlikely that either Boeing or SpaceX will achieve certified, crewed flight to the ISS until late 2018.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket [Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images]
Boeing has only completed 15 of 34 milestones set for it by NASA while SpaceX has managed to complete a mere eight of 21 assigned goals. Many of the issues plaguing the SpaceX program have to do with changes to the design of its Crew Dragon capsule from one that would land on the ground to one that will splash down in the ocean.

Other Crew Dragon issues involve difficulties with the crew capsules parachutes and the SpaceX-designed airlock that leads to the ISS.

NASA’s damaging report came before an anomaly in the second stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, which uses kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuel, caused it to explode on a SpaceX launch pad last week, destroying a $200 million satellite. The investigation into the causes of the anomaly that caused the explosion may further delay SpaceX test flights and commercial launches.

The possible delays means astronauts may be forced to hitch a ride aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for $82 million per seat, NASA advisory council chairman Wayne Hale told SpaceNews.

“Due to the long lead time to procure Soyuz seats, a decision must be made really very shortly, before the end of 2016, to guarantee access to the ISS in 2019. Or we may be forced to reduce or possibly eliminate its crew complement.”

Another report casts doubt on NASA’s ability to launch a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report faulted the space agency for going over budget and being behind schedule in completing construction on its newest launch vehicles.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion crew capsule are prime features of the space agency’s plan to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, but the GAO says scheduled test flights probably won’t happen on time.

That’s most likely because NASA is underfunded and the space agency is constantly being given changing goals by the federal government. During the Cold War, the space agency had clearly defined goals, largely because of the space race with the USSR, but today Congress and the president change NASA’s mission every few decades.

Soyuz Spacecraft [Photo by ESA – Stephane Corvaja/Getty Images]
American competitors Russia and China continue to battle the U.S. for supremacy in the space race, although a SpaceX-style explosion in China may have just destroyed a valuable satellite.

Details remain unclear, but reports on the Chinese social media site Weibo indicate the Gaofen-10 satellite failed to reach orbit after second-stage boosters on a Long March 4 rocket cut out unexpectedly.

Chinese state media have failed to report on the disaster, but images posted to Weibo that have since been removed by the government show pieces of the rocket after the explosion, according to the Daily Mail.

What do you think of the news that SpaceX and Boeing might not complete their commercial crew vehicles on time?

[Photo by NASA/Getty Images]

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