NASA has scheduled its very first crewed flight by a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station for June next year.
The mission will be the first manned US launch to the ISS since the retirement of NASA’s shuttles in 2011. Since that time, astronauts have had to rely on Russian spacecraft to get to the orbiting station. Soyuz tickets have cost more than $81 million apiece.
However, a flight on Boeing spacecraft will follow in August 2019.
After making several postponements, NASA said Thursday it would now be providing monthly updates on deadlines.
“This new process for reporting our schedule is better; nevertheless, launch dates will still have some uncertainty, and we anticipate they may change as we get closer to launch,” said Phil McAlister, director of Commercial Spaceflight Development at NASA Headquarters.
“These are new spacecraft, and the engineering teams have a lot of work to do before the systems will be ready to fly.”
NASA will conduct both missions as tests. In each flight, two astronauts will travel to the ISS, spending two weeks aboard the orbiting lab before returning to Earth.
SpaceX is shooting for a January shakedown of its Dragon capsule, without anyone on board. Boeing will follow in March 2019 with its starliner ship propelling into space by an Atlas V rocket made by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture with Lockheed Martin.
NASA will use SpaceX and Boeing to take astronauts to the ISS for regular missions, which last about six months. The American agency’s contract with the Russian space agency expires in November 2019.
Thumbnail image: A rendering of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon docking with the International Space Station. Credit: NASA