NASA approves Boeing commercial flight test flight extension

WASHINGTON – A day after Boeing confirmed the delays in the test flights of its commercial crew vehicle, NASA said the test flight of the company's crew will have a long stay at the station when it flies.

In a statement on April 3, NASA said the flight test of the crew of the CST-100 Starliner of Boeing, which is expected not before the end of this year, will be a long-haul flight that could remain at the station for months. The exact duration of the mission will be determined "at a later date," the agency said.

NASA announced a year ago that it was working with Boeing to examine the feasibility of an extended Starliner test flight at the station. That extended mission would effectively convert the test flight into a crew rotation mission as NASA's access to the Soyuz seats is terminated.

The two NASA astronauts scheduled to fly in the flight test crew, Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke, have been training in ISS systems in preparation for a possible extended stay at the station. They have been joined by the third member of the crew for that mission, the test pilot of Boeing and the former astronaut Chris Ferguson of NASA.

"It was found that NASA's badessment of the extent of the mission was technically achievable without compromising the safety of the crew," said Phil McAlister, director of the commercial space flight division at NASA headquarters, in the statement. "The flight tests of the commercial crew, along with additional Soyuz opportunities, help us make the transition with more flexibility to our next-generation commercial systems under the Commercial Crew Program."

NASA issued a purchase notice in February that it planned to buy two additional Soyuz seats from the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, seats that the Russians did not plan to use for their own cosmonauts. NASA said at the time that such seats would guarantee "uninterrupted access to the ISS in the event of a delay in the commercial crew launches of the United States."

Russian media also reported that NASA approached Roscosmos to adjust the timeline and crews of upcoming Soyuz missions to the station, including the possibility that one or more astronauts remain at the station for longer than the standard rotation of the station. crew for six months. NASA has not confirmed any changes in those plans.

NASA's statement came a day after Boeing said it was delaying Starliner's first unmanned test flight, known as the orbital flight test, from this spring through August. NASA said the "limited launch opportunities in April and May" for the mission in an Atlas 5, and a national security payload scheduled for launch from the same platform in June, caused the delay.

The most recent official update of the commercial flight test flight schedules, launched by NASA on February 6, stated that the orbital flight test was not scheduled for April. However, a launch in April was unlikely, regardless of the preparation of the spacecraft and launch pad due to heavy traffic at the station in the form of cargo missions Progress, Cygnus and Dragon.

While the Starliner that will fly in the Orbital Flight Test is "almost complete," according to the agency statement, Boeing will use the additional time to perform additional tests of the spacecraft.

"While we have already made substantial progress this year, this change gives us the time to continue building a safe and quality spacecraft, capable of transporting crews again and again after a successful unmanned test, without adding unnecessary pressure to the schedule. ", John Mulholland, vice president The president and program manager for the program of the commercial crew of Boeing, said in the statement.

There are no plans to extend the SpaceX manned test flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, known as Demo-2, when it flies later this year. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are expected to spend no more than a couple of weeks at the station on that test before returning to Earth.

The Demo-2 mission is scheduled for no earlier than July, according to the calendar published by NASA in February, a month after a flight abortion test with the same Dragon spacecraft that flew the unmanned Demo-1 mission in March. The agency said in its April 3 statement that he and SpaceX "are expected to reevaluate their target test dates in the coming weeks."

A spokesperson for SpaceX said on April 3 that he was still working for that earlier schedule. "SpaceX is on track for a test of the Crew Dragon flight abortion capabilities in June and the preparation of hardware for the second Crew Dragon demonstration mission to the space station in July."

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