In what is becoming a habit, NASA has been forced to admit that its plan to have crew aboard commercial launches of commercial spacecraft has been delayed again. Specifially, the uncrewed test launches of both SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner (CST-100) spacecraft have now been delayed from 23 February to March, and from March to April, respectively. Both these missions will be docked with the International Space Station (ISS).

CST-100 Starliner. Courtesy: Boeing

The official reason given by NASA was that both had been delayed for the “completion of necessary hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of flight controllers and mission managers.”

These delays to the unmanned test flights mean that crew-carrying test launches have also been postponed, with the first crewed Boeing Starliner test mission now taking place in August (delayed from June) and with the first manned Crew Dragon flight rescheduled to July (from June). As a result, to ensure confidence in getting its astronauts to the ISS, NASA has decided to purchase two more “seats” on Soyuz missions from Roscosmos.

Artist’s illustration showing Crew Dragon undocking from ISS. Courtesy: SpaceX

Comment by David Todd: Even these missions are likely to be further delayed. Given this – the Seradata SpaceTrak database has registered six or more delays on each of the unmanned test missions – NASA should really have plumped for the technically better Dream Chaser mini-shuttle design from Sierra Nevada. It eschewed this choice in favour of the two capsule designs from Boeing and SpaceX as these promised to be faster to get into operation. Not so it seems. A better choice would have been to have paired one of them with Dream Chaser as a lower risk back-up to it.