Boeing missed NASA deadline for first manned mission of CST-100 spacecraft and now first flight with crew onboard is scheduled not for 2017 but for 2018.
It is not positive news for Boeing itself, because CST-100 was part of the CRS-2 contract won by Boeing together with SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp. in January 2016. Program is starting in 2019 what simply means that after first tests of cargo version of CST-100 Boeing will not have much time to put CST-100 into production and acquiring all necessary certifications. According to announcement given by Boeing vice president Leanne Caret on conference for investors on May 11, 2016:
“We’re working toward our first unmanned flight in 2017, followed by a manned astronaut flight in 2018,”
There are different assumptions what is reason for delay, while Boeing is still avoiding giving any official details about technical problems. According to Aviation Week delays are related with unexpected problems which appeared with CST-100. Spacecraft is too heavy and issues with aero acoustic also exists, what makes keeping schedule with first cargo version flight in 2017 impossible. According to Nasaspaceflights.com problems are mainly appearing with integration of CST-100 with Atlas V 422 rocket. It is worth to remind that 422 configuration which is based on two boosters, two engines in Centaur upper stage and four meter payload fairing is still waiting for human mission certification from NASA (NASA Standard 8705.2B). Of course delay is not huge but still CST-100 should be ready for first CRS-2 flight in 2019, what means that two years for transforming spacecraft from prototype to ready-to-flight construction. Recently on May 2, 2016, Boeing finished successfully assembling of upper and lower domes of the CST-100 inside former Space Shuttle facility (Orbiter Processing Facility, OPF-3) at the Kennedy Space Center (during presence of Space Shuttles in American space program it was place where Shuttles were maintained between flights, which now NASA would like to transform into multi-user space port). But assembled structure is not part of future spacecraft and will not reach space. It is only part of the test program of manufacturing processes and assembly techniques. After finished assembly it will be delivered to test facility in Huntington Beach, California for further load and separation tests which will help in improving CST-100 before real test mission. It seems that most important and crucial moments are in front of Boeing, when every delay at present phase is giving less time to manage with real problems in future.
On picture above: Artist’s vision of CST-100 on orbit.