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GAO recommends NASA to develop emergency plan for ISS access for commercial crew delays



WASHINGTON – A new government statement report urged NASA to develop a contingency plan to maintain access to the station after next September, if commercial vehicles were to suffer further delays.

On June 20, GAO's report noted that both Boeing and SpaceX are advancing in the development of their commercial crews, including an effortless test flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft in March. However, a number of technical issues combined with delays have not given the organisation's confidence that companies would be able to maintain their current schedules.

"Both contractors have made progress in building and testing hardware, including SpaceX's unclear test flight," the report said. "But continuing schedule delays and remaining work for contractors and the program continue to create uncertainty as to when each contractor will be certified to begin performing operational missions to the ISS."

The report outlined the technical challenges facing both companies to complete the development of their vehicles, issues that have also been discussed at recent NASA & # 39; s Advisory Councils and Aviation Safety Advisory Panel. For Boeing, it includes ongoing work to qualify the CST-1

00 Starliner's parachute system while addressing a problem discovered during a parachute test last August. Another problem is an irregularity during an unidentified 2018 launch of United Launch Alliance Atlas 5, the vehicle that will launch Starliner, where the engine's position "differs from commands" but does not affect the outcome of the mission.

SpaceX, in addition to its ongoing April event investigation, which destroyed a Crew Dragon vehicle prepared for testing its interruptions, is experiencing problems with its parachutes. The company also worked to qualify its drive procedures and compression-packed pressure vessels to provide sufficient airplane experience to meet NASA's crew mission requirements as well as a long-standing concern for cracks in launch engine turbines.

One of the reasons why GAO is skeptical about companies being able to meet current schedules is the number of "closure orders" they have received from NASA. Such messages verify that a company has met a requirement in their commercial crew contracts, expecting that almost all claims will be closed before a crew flight. But as of the second quarter, Boeing had only 25 percent of its confirmation closing notes registered, and SpaceX only 11 percent.

This GAO is not the first to warn plan delays in the program. The agency issued a similar report in July 2018, and the new report notes that since the previous report Boeing has delayed the date it expects to have its 12-month Starliner vehicle while SpaceX has delayed the Crew Dragon certification for seven months. .

The SpaceX Certification Date in September 2019 is likely to fall further because its schedules for both abortion and flight crew are under review while the April Test Event investigation continues. SpaceX recently filed a communications license with the Federal Communications Commission for the Occupied Test, expecting the flight to take place within a six-month period from November 1.

Boeing is scheduled to perform an unclear test flight Starliner no earlier than August, followed by a flight crew in November. Both dates are likely to fall further while the unclear test is not expected before mid-September. Dennis Muilenburg, President and CEO of Boeing, said in a June 19 speech that the unclear test flight would take place later this summer and the crew "before the end of the year."

The report repeated a recommendation from GAO's 2018 report that NASA is developing a contingency plan to maintain access to the station. Since this report, NASA announced that it would acquire two seats on Soyuz missions that will allow a US presence to be maintained at the station in September 2020. NASA has not provided the cost of these seats, the GAO report said, but that was five percent higher than the previous contract modification.

GAO, although said this seat purchase alone is not sufficient to meet its requirement. "NASA will provide additional support to the planning effort to ensure uninterrupted access to the ISS, whose delays with Commercial Crew Program contractors continue beyond September 2020," the report said. "Continued NASA attention to this issue is needed due to the uncertainty associated with the final certification dates."

In an answer included in the report, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's human rights research and operations association manager, said that the Soyuz seat, along with plans to convert Boeing's crew flight to a long-standing mission to the station, "currently provides sufficient time frame to enable Commercial Crewing Systems to become operational. "

"Should this planning margin change in the future," he added: "NASA will rethink our ability to ensure that we maintain an American presence on the ISS."


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