Boeing, SpaceX delays have NASA scrambling for crew contingency plan

Brittany A. Roston - Jul 12, 2018, 1:57pm CDT
Boeing, SpaceX delays have NASA scrambling for crew contingency plan

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a new report detailing the NASA Commercial Crew Program and delays its two contracted companies, Boeing and SpaceX, are experiencing. Both space companies are behind schedule, with the report revealing that NASA anticipates Boeing being slightly closer to completion than SpaceX.

Back in 2014, NASA awarded both Boeing and SpaceX contracts with a total value of up to $6.8 billion. Under the contracts, both space companies are tasked with developing commercial crew transportation systems; the eventual initial missions under these contracts will involve trips to the International Space Station.

The Government Accountability Office says it discovered in early 2017 that both companies, despite having made progress, were behind schedule. Under the contracts, Boeing and SpaceX were supposed to give NASA “all the evidence” necessary by 2017 for the certification of the systems as meeting requirements, says the GAO report.

Despite their progress, “both contractors continue to delay their certification milestone,” the report explains. Included is a chart showing both companies’ original certification milestones, as well as the present proposed dates, with Boeing listed at January 2019 and SpaceX at February 2019. The certification is necessary for NASA to confirm that the systems are suitable for taking humans into space.

The report goes on to state, “Further delays are likely as the Commercial Crew Program’s schedule risk analysis shows that the certification milestone is likely to slip.” Based on an analysis conducted in April, the GAO estimates an average certification date for the companies at December 2019 for Boeing and January 2020 for SpaceX.

This is a problem for NASA, which has only contracted seats for astronaut ISS transportation through November 2019. The space station has relied on Russian’s Soyuz spacecraft to shuttle its crew to the ISS, leaving a potential gap between when that contract ends and the two contractors’ systems are certified. This has left NASA scrambling in search of possible solutions to avoid a disruption to its ISS access.

As part of its review, the GAO has made a total of five recommendations on the matter, of which it advises NASA to come up with a contingency plan to cover the delays. As well, NASA must “clarify how it will determine its risk tolerance for loss of crew” on the ISS. Of the five recommendations, NASA agreed with three of them; the only one it fully “non-concurred with” was a recommendation to report its schedule analysis directly to Congress.


Image by SpaceX via NASA Kennedy CC BY-SA 2.0

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