Boeing and SpaceX Race to Test New 'Space Taxis'

Tuesday, 10 January 2017 - 10:29AM
Space
NASA
Technology
Tuesday, 10 January 2017 - 10:29AM
Boeing and SpaceX Race to Test New 'Space Taxis'
Since the space shuttle fleet's retirement in 2011, NASA has had to shell out big bucks to transport their astronauts and cargo to and from the ISS. Each flight includes 220 pounds of cargo and up to four humans, totaling $80 million dollars per seat. Until now, we've relied on the Russians to do this heavy lifting for us, but all that is about to change, as both SpaceX and Boeing are vying to become the next big Space Taxi company.

NASA has given each of the spaceflight companies a contract for two flights. Though their mission is the same, the companies have taken vastly different approaches to the problem of transporting goods and people to and from space. 

SpaceX is choosing to modify its Dragon capsule—the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the ISS, and currently the only one capable of returning large amounts of cargo to Earth—to be crew-capable. Boeing has decided to start from scratch with something they're calling the CST-Starliner. 
Though both space taxis have yet to be tested in flight, they have been scheduled for their maiden voyages.
The modified Dragon has an upcoming un-crewed demo in November, followed by a manned test flight in May 2018. Not to be left behind, Boeing is following a similar schedule, with an unmanned flight in June 2018, and a crewed flight to follow later in the summer. Both companies would launch from the same place—Florida's Space Coast.

Let's hope all goes well for them, because the NASA contracts come with the caveat that the spacecrafts both pass safety certification before, during, and after their respective test flights. This kind of contract allows Boeing and SpaceX a sense of stability that will help them plan for future needs, while exempting NASA from making up-front payments—a win win situation. According to Phil McAlister, director of NASA's Commercial Spaceflight Development Division:

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"Awarding these missions now will provide greater stability for the future space station crew rotation schedule, as well as reduce schedule and financial uncertainty for our providers."
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Meanwhile, NASA is also working on its own launch system for shuttling necessities between home and the ISS. The first flight test for its new Space Launch System is slated for winter of 2018, with crewed flights to follow in 2020.


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