A drone flying around the Kennedy Space Center recently captured incredible footage of a small step forward for NASA's delayed commercial crew program.
Boeing joined its Starliner spacecraft, which is supposed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station in the near future, to a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for the first time on Nov. 21.
An epic new drone video (opens in new tab) shared on NASA's commercial crew Twitter shows Starliner (accompanied by the requisite train of personnel in their own vehicles) making its way to the launch pad, where it was hoisted into position atop its booster. If all goes to plan, Starliner will launch on Dec. 17 for its first uncrewed test in orbit.
"From #Starliner rollout and move to #AtlasV mate, this week has been AMAZING," Boeing said on Twitter. "Now we're counting down the days until the December 17 launch for our Orbital Flight Test to @Space_Station."
NASA echoed the excitement in its own tweet. "A major step forward for @Commercial_Crew this week: @BoeingSpace's #Starliner spacecraft rolled out of the processing facility and was secured atop a @ulalaunch rocket," it said.
NASA has two companies vying for commercial crew opportunities: Boeing and SpaceX. SpaceX's Crew Dragon made a test flight in March and both companies are still working toward their first crewed launches. NASA contracted each company in 2014 for crewed launches that at the time were expected to occur in 2017. Today, the most optimistic estimates say astronauts will use these vehicles in 2020.
The NASA Office of the Inspector General recently released a report citing numerous schedule and technical issues in the commercial crew program, and warned that the U.S. may have to continue using Russian Soyuz flights to the space station for even longer than planned. Boeing strenuously objected to some of the findings last week, adding that it still plans to launch crew in early 2020.
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