The first home-grown rides to the ISS are due to take place next year, the first since the shuttle program was shuttered in 2011.
Enter the Dragon: In a blog post, NASA announced a time line for commercial missions to the International Space Station for 2019 by SpaceX and Boeing. The first flight test of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, the one that’s designed to carry astronauts, will launch January 7. A crewed flight carrying two NASA astronauts in the capsule is slated for June 2019.
Why it matters: NASA is in a hurry to get Boeing and SpaceX crewed missions up and running so it can shake off its dependence on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. Time is looking pretty tight: NASA has only bought Soyuz seats up until November 2019. If it doesn’t get its own trips sorted by then, that would mean no NASA astronaut would be able to get to the ISS.
The latest schedule suggests it’s been hustling, at least. A report in July this year (PDF) from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) had estimated that neither SpaceX or Boeing would be ready to go until early 2020.
What’s next: After January’s test flight, SpaceX will have to carry out an in-flight abort test—making sure the capsule can get safely away in the event of an accident—with no astronauts on board. If all goes to plan, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Demo-2 test in June 2019—the first astronauts to fly from US soil since the shuttle’s last flight in 2011. They will fly from the same launch pad that hosted the Apollo missions. Boeing’s own crewed capsule, Starliner, will carry three astronauts in August 2019 after an uncrewed test flight in March.