Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the private spacecraft company that wants to send people to Mars, is set to beat Boeing Co. (BA) to the punch when it comes to flying astronauts to the International Space Station.
NASA on Thursday said it expects SpaceX to fly its first astronauts in April of 2019 and Boeing will follow, launching astronauts into space in the middle of next year. It won't be the first time SpaceX trounces Boeing. NASA also said SpaceX will launch an uncrewed flight test in November, with Boeing not expected to do that until late in 2018 or in the early part of next year. (See more: How Musk's SpaceX Is Beating Boeing.)
"NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements," said the official blog. "To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station."
NASA also revealed that the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft "packed with science and hardware" will return to Earth on Friday from the International Space Station.
The Winner to Receive Lots of Accolades
American astronauts haven’t launched from the U.S. since 2011, and the first commercial company to make that happen first will undoubtedly receive accolades. Ever since the Space Shuttle Program ended, American astronauts have been paying for seats on Russia's Soyuz capsules to make it to the International Space Station where they live and work for a span of six months. Getting a ride from Russia costs the U.S. government $70 million to $80 million per seat, reported The Atlantic. That is why in 2010 NASA started accepting proposals from commercial companies that were making astronaut transportation systems. The two front-runners to emerge were SpaceX and Boeing. NASA had originally expected the companies to have their spacecraft ready for missions to the International Space Station by the end of last year, but neither were able to meet that target. (See more: Elon Musk's SpaceX to Launch World's Most Powerful Rocket Today.)
Both Companies Can Complete Certification Next Year
The goal now is to complete the certification for sending humans to space in 2019. SpaceX is aiming for January of next year while Boeing is targeting February 2019. Once they receive the certification, NASA expects the companies to launch as many as six crews to the International Space Station. The Government Accountability Office, noted The Atlantic's report, doesn’t agree, saying it's more likely Boeing will be certified in December of next year and SpaceX in January of 2020.
SpaceX is currently valued at $28 billion, making it one of the most valuable private companies around the globe. It is able to draw funds from investors around the world because of its past accomplishments and its space goals for the future including spending people to Mars in space vessels. If it is able to overtake Boeing, it's likely the company will become even more valuable.