With its last shuttle flight seven years ago this month, NASA has been paying Russian Federation up to $82 million a seat to ferry USA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The U.S. space agency has been paying the Russian Space Agency to launch its astronauts since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011.
But neither company is expected to be ready to carry out manned flights by that date because of various delays in certifying their programs, the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report published Wednesday. The report was based on information from an April analysis. 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.
Since 2014, the two private companies have been mounting a bid to be the first to fly Americans again to space.More news: The rules really need to change, says Kevin Anderson
If NASA is unable to begin launching US astronauts from Cape Canaveral until late 2020, it would leave a possible nine-month gap in NASA's access to ISS, according to the report.
The spacecraft won't return immediately but spend two more weeks in orbit while a flight control team conducts engineering tests and a NanoRacks deployer releases a series of CubeSats, or tiny satellites. It warned in a February 2017 report, in testimony to Congress in January 2018, and again today that NASA needs a contingency plan for ensuring that USA astronauts can remain aboard ISS if the commercial crew systems are not ready by the time the Soyuz seats run out. "However, officials told us that planning for contingencies is hard given the extensive global negotiations required for some options", the report noted.
SpaceX and Boeing have continued testing their spacecraft, all as part of the lengthy certification process.More news: At least 19 dead after explosion at chemical plant in China
SpaceX spacecrafts the Dragon (L) and the DragonRider sit on display at the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California June 14, 2012.
GAO recommended that the NASA Administrator direct the Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance, the Associate Administrator for HEO, the Commercial Crew Program Manager and the Commercial Crew Contracting Officer "to collectively determine and document before the agency certification review how the agency will determine its risk tolerance level with respect to loss of crew".
On June 20, SpaceX posted a photo of the Crew Dragon at NASA's Plum Brook Station testing facility in OH where the spacecraft was placed in a thermal vacuum chamber to test its ability to withstand extreme temperatures. According to NASA, the Starliner could launch in November on its first crewed test flight. GAO provided a chart comparing how the the agency certification process, the CCP program office, the contracts with the companies, and NASA's SMA Office set the requirement, whether the updated or former debris model is used, and whether mitigation measures are taken into account.More news: Israel strikes Hamas military targets in retaliation for rocket attacks