With the view of things, the United States’ long drought in human spacecraft is almost coming to an end. Ever since July 2011, when NASA launched a fleet of space shuttles, no astronaut has fled to orbit from the U.S. soil. The country has since then relied on Russian rockets and crafts to get its members of space to the International Space Station and back.
NASA is relying on the private sector to fit in the shuttle’s gap. The agency’s Commercial Crew Program signed multibillion-dollar contracts with Boeing and SpaceX in 2014 to get astronaut vehicles, respectively, CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon in operation.
On January 19th, 2020, Crew Dragon launched an important in-flight abort (IFA) experiment showing the spaceflight’s ability to get astronauts to safety in the case of an emergency during take-off. SpaceX, in turn, had flown an uncrewed experimental mission to the International Space Station, known as the Demo-1.
NASA and SpaceX are required to check and analyze data from IFA, plus the agency officials wish to see two extra full tests on Crew Dragon’s re-established parachute system before clearing the capsule to ferry NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the ISS and back, on an experimental mission referred to as Demo-2. SpaceX founder Elon Musk during a news conference held after IFA, indeed indicated that the launch was scheduled for soon enough.
SpaceX’s deal of 2014 worth 2.6 billion U.S. dollars states that the company is supposed to launch six flights with Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon. Boeing, on the other hand, has had a much rockier ordeal with its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test(OFT) being stranded on a lower orbit from the ISS. The capsule, after going in rounds over the Earth space, came down after two days instead of the targeted eight days.
Starliner, on the other hand, performed well and is eligible for a possible crewed test in its next mission flight to the ISS, according to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine earlier this month. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are hoping to fly passengers to the suborbital space in 2020. Virgin Galactic in December 2018 and February 2019 carried passengers to suborbital space with VSS Unity.
Blue Origin, founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, flew an uncrewed mission test with New Shepard reusable system, which comprises of a six-passenger capsule and a suborbital rocket. Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have planned crewed missions in 2020, with the aim of affordable ticket prices for its passengers.