SpaceX, Boeing Commercial Crew flights delayed by NASA (again)

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Florida US

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"There still are many critical steps to complete before launch and while we eagerly are anticipating these launches, we will step through our test flight preparations and readiness reviews", said Kathy Lueders, the Commercial Crew Program manager, in a press release.

SpaceX's first Crew Dragon flight is postponed again: The aerospace company and NASA just moved the capsule's target launch date to March 2. Though they're essentially practice runs, they're still big launches, as the Commercial Crew Program will eventually be used to take astronauts from the USA to the International Space Station.

Boeing, meanwhile, is targeting no earlier than April for its first launch of a Starliner crew capsule from Cape Canaveral, also without a crew. In today's announcement, NASA calls them "dress rehearsals" for flights that will have astronauts on board.

Assuming the in-flight test goes well and no other major problems crop up, NASA and SpaceX hope to launch another Crew Dragon this summer, this one carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the station.

The uncrewed test flights will be the first time commercially-built and operated American spacecraft designed for humans will dock to the space station. The Starliner will blast off from pad 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, riding into space atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

Of course, this new timeline also assumes that these initial test flights aren't delayed further.

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In a statement posted on the agency's website, NASA said the revised schedule will allow time for "completion of necessary hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of flight controllers and mission managers".

It would be the first launch of US astronauts into orbit, from USA soil, since NASA's shuttle program ended in 2011.

The overall commercial crew program has suffered extensive delays.

Both companies must prove they can perform the missions safely before being certified for NASA crew rotation missions to the International Space Station.

Boeing, SpaceX and the Commercial Crew Program are actively working to be ready for the operational missions. The rocket performed a static fire test on the pad January 24 that the company said was successful. Since the end of the Space Shuttle program, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to bring astronauts to and from orbit.

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