SpaceX vs. Boeing: Race to Space Station Heats Up Print E-mail

Space Waves

August 7, 2018

Who'll be the first to take American astronauts to the International Space Station to claim the U. S. flag?1

On the first space shuttle mission, STS-1, the crew planted the flag in the hatch of the International Space Station in 1981. The final 2011 shuttle flight left the flag behind in orbit, a prize to be claimed by the next crew to fly into space from U.S. soil.

SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (a Boeing and Lockheed Martin partnership) are locked in a pitched battle to be the first to reach orbit with astronauts on board their capsules. The commercial spaceships will be the first to launch U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired in July 2011. Since then, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets and spaceships to fly U.S. astronauts in space.

After months of testing, a SpaceX Dragon capsule with its stubby nose and matte-black fins, was shipped to Cape Canaveral in mid-July. However, this Dragon won’t carry crew on its first flight, instead, it’s due to make an uncrewed practice run to the space station on a mission known as DM-1.

2NASA has required both commercial spaceflight companies to launch uncrewed test flights of their capsules -- dress rehearsals for later manned launches. SpaceX will blast off its Dragon 2 capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket, while Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Both of these test flights are scheduled for later in August. The Crew Dragon tests are vital for SpaceX to ensure the spacecraft can survive the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space. Both spacecraft are designed to carry up to seven astronauts

NASA recently announced the first nine astronauts to fly on these private spaceships, and, just like the original Mercury Seven, NASA's first astronauts announced in 1959, these 21st century space travelers have "the right stuff."

The first uncrewed Crew Dragon and Starliner test flights are expected to launch in August from different pads at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, NASA officials have said. Boeing's Starliner is looking at Aug. 27, while SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is pegged for Aug. 31.

If all goes well, Crew Dragon and Starliner could make their first crewed launch in November or December.

READY FOR A THREE-PEAT? The Falcon 9 booster that blasted off from Cape Canaveral early Tuesday, Aug. 7, and landed on a drone ship eight minutes later, 400 miles out in the Atlantic, could become the company’s first to launch a third orbital mission. Timing is being projected before the end of this year.

Until now, SpaceX has mothballed rockets after two launches. But the most recent launch of an Indonesian communications satellite was the first to re-fly an upgraded Falcon 9, known as Block 5, that is designed to launch 10 or more times.

The launch was SpaceX’s 15th of the year, just three shy of last year’s total, and the 60th overall by a Falcon 9 rocket since its debut in 2010.With the introduction of the upgraded Falcon 9 and its successful re-flight, SpaceX begins in earnest its drive to transition reusable rockets from an experimental project into something more routine, like aircraft operations.

If successful, that innovation over time promises to lower the cost of launches that SpaceX now advertises online for $62 million. CEO Elon Musk ultimately hopes to make it economical for an even bigger rocket — the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR — to transport human settlers to Mars.

-- Florida Today

Photos courtesy of SpaceX and NASA


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