Bad news, space fans. NASA has confirmed that the first launches from US soil since 2011 have been delayed until summer 2019.
The widely expected delay was announced in a statement from NASA, which said that upcoming test launches from SpaceX and Boeing would be pushed back. These two companies are developing crewed spacecraft for NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Program.
The delay will mean SpaceX’s first uncrewed test flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft will be delayed from December 2018 to January 2019. A crewed flight is expected in June 2019, pushed back from April 2019, SpaceNews noted.
As for Boeing, they are targeting an initial uncrewed test flight of their Starliner vehicle in March 2019, with a crewed flight to follow later in August 2019. They originally planned for an uncrewed test flight in late 2018 or early 2019, and a crewed flight in mid-2019.
“[L]aunch dates will still have some uncertainty, and we anticipate they may change as we get closer to launch,” Phil McAlister, director of Commercial Spaceflight Development at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. “These are new spacecraft, and the engineering teams have a lot of work to do before the systems will be ready to fly.”
The spacecraft will be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida to the International Space Station (ISS), which NASA noted was one of the reasons for the delay. They said SpaceX’s later launch in January would “accommodate docking opportunities at the orbiting laboratory.”
Much has been made of the heated race to launch US astronauts back into space since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. A recent investigation by Ars Technica found that a smear campaign had been operated against SpaceX, while there has also been no love lost between SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg.
NASA has been eager to start launching US astronauts again sooner rather than later, as their contract with Russia to launch astronauts on the Soyuz capsule expires in 2019. A report earlier this year said that further delays to SpaceX and Boeing’s launches could leave NASA with a gap in access to the International Space Station (ISS).
Still, safety is paramount for these initial launches. If anything were to go wrong it could set crewed launches back even further, so all involved will want to make sure the spacecraft have passed every test with flying colors. Even if that means waiting just that little bit longer.