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Exclusive: SpaceX, Boeing design risks threaten the new delays for the AMERICAN space program

SEATTLE (Reuters) – NASA has warned SpaceX, Boeing Co of the design and the safety of their competitive astronaut launch systems, according to sources from the sector, and a new report from the government, a threat to the US bid to revive the manned space program later this year.

One of Boeing Co’s CST-100 Starliner astronaut capsules is to be seen on a production facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Eric M. Johnson

NASA is paying SpaceX $2.6 billion and Boeing $4.2 billion to build the rocket and capsule launch systems to return astronauts to the International Space Station from AMERICAN soil for the first time since the America’s Space Shuttle program went dark in 2011.

Just before the first planned un-crewed test flight planned for March 2, part of NASA’s multibillion-dollar Commercial Crew Program, NASA’s safety advisory panel four ‘key risk items” in its 2018 annual report earlier this month.

For Boeing, they are the capsule of the structural vulnerability when the shield is deployed. For SpaceX, the report mentioned the redesign of a rocket of SpaceX bus after a 2016 explosion and the “load and go” process of the fueling of the rocket with the crew already in the capsule. “Parachute performance” remained a problem for both companies.

“There are serious challenges to the current launch schedules for both SpaceX, Boeing,” the report said.

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Two people with direct knowledge of the program told Reuters that the space agency’s concerns go further than the four items mentioned, and are a risk ledger, who at the beginning of February, there is 30 to 35 ongoing technical problems, each for SpaceX, Boeing. Reuters could not verify what all of the nearly three dozen articles. But the sources familiar with the matter, said the companies should focus “most” of that care for flying astronauts and, eventually, tourists to the area.

The NASA risk database is updated routinely in the course of NASA’s stringent certification process, which includes data collection, testing, and cooperation with SpaceX, Boeing, the people said. The Boeing and SpaceX systems have already been delayed several times in the past few years, which is customary in this sector, given the complexity of the construction of multibillion-dollar spacecraft capable of shedding the gravity of the earth.

NASA spokesman Joshua Finch deferred all technical questions about the Boeing and SpaceX systems to the companies, citing confidentiality, but said: “Flying safely is always a priority on schedule.”

Boeing spokesman Josh Barrett said that the company “closed” the capsule of the structural vulnerability of the risk when it has completed its structural test program in January. While Boeing works through a number of other problems, they “are not driving a big structural change in the system.”

“Our figures show that we are more than NASA’s safety,” said Barrett.

SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson said the company, working with NASA, has developed “one of the safest, most advanced human spaceflight systems that have ever been built.”

“There is nothing more important for SpaceX to safely fly crew,” said Gleeson, calling it “the core of our company’s long-term goal of enabling access for people who have the dream of flying to space.”

Founded by Tesla Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk, SpaceX has cut the cost of rocket launches with its pioneering reusable rocket technology, while Boeing traces of its space business back to the first AMERICAN manned space missions of the 1960s and is also the world’s largest planemaker.

The clock is ticking. The US is paying Russia about $80 million per ticket for a ride to the International Space Station, a $100 billion orbital research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (402 km) above the Earth.

There are no seats available for the AMERICAN crew on the Russian spacecraft after 2019 given production schedules, and other factors. NASA last week said it was considering paying for two or more seats to the space station for this autumn and in the spring of 2020 in order to ensure AMERICAN access.

The NASA plan for extra seats came a week after her safety panel, said that Congress should come up with a “mitigation plan” in case of delays, and threaten AMERICAN access to the space station, in which previous concerns of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

NASA is set to conduct a flight readiness review on Friday for SpaceX’s mission without a crew on 2 March. NASA decides on the approval of the test flight without crew, while SpaceX addresses the issues for a human mission.

PARACHUTE WEAKNESSES

Three people familiar with the project say that the AMERICAN space agency has established that in a number of design differences between the older SpaceX capsules are designed to haul cargo to the International space station (iss), and a newer version designed for the transport of people.

Some of the risks (as identified in the design of the huge parachutes that deploy when the capsule plummets back to Earth at supersonic speeds – are rare given how close SpaceX is to test flights, two of the people said.

The timing of the deployment of the SpaceX parachutes and the interaction of the parachutes themselves, concerns have been expressed about the parachute performance and potential, or they are able to slow down the capsule enough to ensure that the crew of the safety, the two people said.

SpaceX has completed 17 parachute tests for the Commercial Crew Program until now, with an extra 10 tests scheduled prior to the Crew of the Dragon’s second demo mission, Gleeson said. He also said that her parachute systems are designed with redundancy, so that the car can still be safe landing in case a parachute fails.

NASA’s safety panel said in its report that SpaceX may be required to re-design his parachute system. A re-design would probably trigger more testing, and possibly weeks or months of additional delay, two of the people said.

NASA also found design problems with the system that helps to orient SpaceX’s capsule in an upright position when it lands in the ocean, raising the risk of taking excessive amounts of water, according to two industry sources and confirmed by an official NASA.

SpaceX’s Gleeson said Crew Dragon’s outer shell is water-resistant, and the spacecraft itself is quite resilient and does not pose a risk to members of the crew after its landing.

THE RISK OF DELAYS MORE

NASA announced earlier this month that SpaceX was now focused on 2 March instead of Feb. 23 for the un-crew the Crew Dragon test flight with the astronaut flight is scheduled for July. NASA explained the delay by citing vague concerns for both contractors, such as the need for hardware testing and other work.

NASA said that the Boeing un-manned Starliner could fly “no earlier” than April, with the manned mission is currently planned for August. This is the time schedule now in jeopardy, according to the NASA report.

Slideshow (2 Images)

The challenges in front of a Boeing to be his last year on the failure during a test of the launch-abort motors, which spilled corrosive fuel on the test stand, Boeing Barrett said. The accident was caused by a faulty control valve that Boeing has re-designed and re-ordered from the supplier, but the new valves must be re-tested, Barrett said.

The test flights are also part of the collection of the data necessary to close a number of risks items, NASA said.

“SpaceX, Boeing have both challenges, both similar, from a safety perspective,” said a U.S. government source.

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Washington and Joey Roulette in Orlando, Florida; Editing by Edward Tobin

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