NASA expects the first manned SpaceX mission to the International Space Station to happen in June 2019.
The mission will mark the first crewed launch by a U.S. spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory since the United States retired its space shuttle program in 2011.
NASA astronauts have been hitching rides to and from the ISS aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for years. For these flights, the United States had to pay about $80 million for each seat.
Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts to shuttle astronauts to the ISS in 2014 as part of the U.S. Commercial Crew Program.
NASA expects SpaceX and Boeing to transport astronauts to low Earth orbit for regular missions that usually last about six months. Once the Commercial Crew Program is up and running, NASA astronauts will be able to travel to and from the orbiting laboratory on American-made vehicles at a relatively cheaper cost.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk vowed last month that it will send its first astronauts into orbit on schedule. The first crewed ISS flight on a Boeing spacecraft is expected to follow in August 2019. The schedule is timely since NASA’s contract with the Russian space agency will end in November 2019.
The timetable for these manned flights has already been changed several times but the U.S. space agency said on Thursday that they will be providing monthly updates.
“This new process for reporting our schedule is better; nevertheless, launch dates will still have some uncertainty, and we anticipate they may change as we get closer to launch,” NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Development Director Phil McAlister said in a statement published by Phys.org.
“These are new spacecraft, and the engineering teams have a lot of work to do before the systems will be ready to fly.”
The two missions will be considered tests. The astronauts who will be ferried in each flight will spend two weeks at the ISS before returning to Earth.
To prepare for these crewed flights, SpaceX will carry out an unmanned test in January 2019. Boeing will conduct its test in March 2019.
NASA already named the first nine astronauts who will fly to the ISS onboard the SpaceX and Boeing vehicles. These include shuttle veterans Michael Hopkins, Bob Behnken, and Douglas Hurley,
For the launch, SpaceX will use the Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon capsule attached on top. Boeing’s Starliner ship, on the other hand, will be launched into space by an Atlas V rocket