NASA confirms that SpaceX will become the first company in history to launch astronauts into orbit

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NASA has unequivocally confirmed that SpaceX, with its Crew Dragon spacecraft, will soon become the first private company in history to launch astronauts into orbit, both an unexpected turn of the space agency generally with tight lips and a large annoyance for Boeing.

Shortly after revealing that the first Crew Dragon capsule with astronaut qualification had been completed and sent eastward, SpaceX and NASA confirmed that the historic spacecraft arrived at SpaceX’s processing facilities in Florida on Thursday, February 13. With that milestone out of the way, it is now believed that all the hardware necessary for the launch of the SpaceX ‘Demo-2’ launch of the spacecraft: Falcon 9 Booster B1058, a Falcon 9 upper stage, the Crew Dragon C206 capsule and a Crew trunk Dragon. all finished, tested in acceptance and preparing for the flight in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Extremely out of place for NASA since Crew Dragon Demo-2 is expected to launch no sooner than two or three months from now, the space agency’s public statement that SpaceX will launch astronauts first simultaneously implies bad news for Boeing and his spaceship Starliner. Hired under the Commercial Crew Program in 2014, Boeing, awarded $ 5.1B, and SpaceX, awarded $ 3.1B, have been working to build two separate crew launch vehicles (Starliner and Crew Dragon) with the intention of transporting NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). While both suppliers have had their own challenges, Boeing has been beset by numerous software failures that emerged during the debut of Starliner’s orbital launch in December 2019.

In a deleted tweet, NASA revealed that SpaceX’s latest Crew Dragon spacecraft “will launch the first crew from US soil since 2011”.

While the commercial crew account removed its tweet and the accompanying NASA blog post, linked in that tweet, was modified to reflect a slightly different interpretation, the original text stated unequivocally that “the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft [assigned to] the first launch of the crew from US soil since 2011 came to the launch site. “Since both the tweet and the blob publication contained exactly the same phrase, the fact that NASA was censored and retroactively corrected strongly suggests that SpaceX, in fact, will become the first private company in history to launch astronauts into orbit.

NASA has a fairly notorious history and many years of doing everything possible to avoid saying or implying something that can be perceived as even a little critical of Boeing. A prime contractor dating back to the first stage of the Saturn V rocket, Boeing has secured billions of dollars from NASA’s annual budget and has deep political dominance thanks in large part to the revolving doors between industry and government and The hundreds of millions of dollars. It has been spent on lobbying in the last two decades.

More recently, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft had several major software-related failures during its December 2019 orbital flight test, narrowly avoiding a second “catastrophic” failure mode because a separate software failure 48 hours before forced The company will reexamine your code. In simple terms, both of them software failures should and could have been detected and repaired prior to launch if there had even been a similarity of routine digital simulations and integrated vehicle tests.

As expected, NASA, at least after the fact, is now extremely concerned about the lack of such a basic and common sense level of quality control in the Boeing Starliner software pipeline. Even NASA, it could be said, could and should have been attentive enough to detect some of Boeing’s shortcomings prior to Starliner launch debut. In addition to the embarrassment, NASA conducted a “fairly invasive” $ 5 million review of SpaceX’s general engineering culture and safety practices, triggered ironically after CEO Elon Musk was seen smoking very briefly in a recorded interview. As part of the regulations for the Commercial Crew Program, NASA was required to conduct a similar review of Boeing’s safety culture, but the contractor demanded that NASA pay five times more, $ 25 million, for the same.

The Boeing Starliner spacecraft and the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft are placed vertically on their respective launch platforms in December 2019 and January 2020. (Richard Angle)

As expected, NASA opposed Boeing’s demands and ended up performing a symbolic “paper” review, which generally involves the “audit paperwork” provided by the company itself. Despite the fact that Boeing would soon be involved in two fatal accidents of 737 Max, killing 346 people as a result of poor quality software, unreliable design and poor internal communication, NASA has never yet conducted a review of similar security with Boeing. Now, only after an almost catastrophic space failure, NASA will finally carry out that review, while both NASA and Boeing will also have to thoroughly review all Starliner software and correct the defective practices used to create and qualify it.

Perhaps most importantly, NASA and Boeing will also have to try to determine if Starliner’s software failures were a coincidence or something more symptomatic of deeper problems. Because of that great uncertainty and the large amount of work that will be required to answer those questions, it is almost certain that NASA will have to require Boeing to conduct a second unmanned Starliner test flight to verify that its problems have been corrected. A second OFT would almost certainly delay the launch of the launch of Boeing astronauts between 6 and 12 months.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (EEI) in two to three months. (POT)

As a result, despite the launch of SpaceX Crew Dragon ‘Demo-2’ from SpaceX is probably more than two months away, even a part of NASA, famous for incredibly conservative public statements, seems certain that SpaceX will launch astronauts first. As of February 13, 2020, all Demo-2 Falcon 9 and Dragon hardware is likely to be finished and awaiting integration in Florida. If things go as planned in the coming weeks, Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon could launch astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in late April 2020.

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