In a move hopefully stemming from NASA’s revitalized budget for the coming year, NASA has issued Boeing a second flight order as part of the Commercial Crew Program. Boeing is one of two private companies involved in the program, the other being SpaceX. The flight order guarantees a second launch for Boeing following the first order that was issued in May of this year, and a mission order for SpaceX made in November.
The Commercial Crew Program contracts dictate that NASA will order at least 4 flights from the two companies, made 2 or 3 years in advance of the mission’s expected date. With 3 of the 4 flights that NASA is contractually obliged to order now filled, it remains to be seen whether the 4th mission will go to SpaceX, splitting them equally, or whether another will be issued to Boeing. If the results are promising, however, the missions may continue.
The craft that Boeing will use to ferry astronauts into space is their CST-100 Starliner vehicle. While the craft was dropped from NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services second-phase competition, it still remains on track to fulfil its obligations to the Commercial Crew Program. In direct competition is SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which revolves around the recently reinstated Falcon 9 rocket, which, if proven to have fixed the flaws that resulted in a failed supply mission, could pave the way for SpaceX picking up more manned flights.
It is currently unannounced when this new mission will take place, with the previous two mission orders optimistically planned for 2017. The budget now allows for them to keep development on track. With NASA being guaranteed funds for the program going into 2016, new, all-American spacecraft could be making their trips to the ISS within two years.