According to a federal report, incomplete safety measures and holes in accountability might cause a delay in the planned launch of NASA’s astronauts to the International Space Station. This could mean that the first launch since 2011, which was planned to take place in 2019, is set to be postponed, leaving the ISS without any U.S. astronauts for nine months.
The importance of an uninterrupted access to the ISS
The two companies selected to take part in NASA’s commercial crew program, SpaceX and Boeing Co planned to use their spacecraft, Dragon and Starliner, to send the astronauts to space in 2019. However, the Government Accountability Office said that both contractors have delayed the certification milestone to the beginning of 2019. In the report released on Wednesday, officials explained that this is because of the risk that NASA will not be able to fully profit from its multibillion dollar investment, which might be caused by lack of proper procedures, ensuring that the access to the ISS remains uninterrupted by the future commercial crew delays.
Boeing plans its test flights for this year
According to Boeing’s senior spokesman, Jerry Drelling, the company plans to launch the test flights of its CST-100 Starliner as soon as possible. Boeing, together with SpaceX, were chosen in 2014 to develop crew transportation systems that will take part in NASA’s commercial crew program, respectively receiving contracts of 4.2 billion dollars and 2.6 billion dollars.
Potential safety risks under investigation
In its report, the Government Accountability Office said that it is investigating the potential safety issues of the companies’ crew capsules. Amongst them, it mentions a fuel valve on SpaceX’ Falcon rocket, as well as Starliner’s abort system, which is supposed to eject the capsule in case of an explosion of the rocket.
Since 2011, all NASA’s missions are being launched from Kazakhstan on the board of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. It looks like we will still have to wait for the first U.S. launch in 7 years.