As Boeing Slips, SpaceX Will Likely Be First Company To Carry Astronauts

Next year could be a milestone in the private space race

In the race to become the first private company to carry humans into space, it looks like SpaceX’s lead has solidified. According to Geekwire, Boeing will not be able to launch its CST-100 Starliner vessel with astronauts onboard until 2018.

Since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, American astronauts have been hitching a ride with Russia to the space station. That’s adding up to be quite expensive–about $70 million per seat, and rising. Meanwhile, NASA is investing in private companies that it hopes will bring human-rated launch capabilities back to the U.S. The space agency has set its hopes on two companies: Boeing, a long-time friend of NASA, and SpaceX, which should require no introduction.

The plan was for both SpaceX and Boeing to launch their first crewed flights to the space station in 2017. Although NASA has said it was unsure who would get to carry astronauts first, SpaceX’s uncrewed version of the Dragon capsule is regularly carrying cargo deliveries to the International Space Station, while Boeing’s Starliner hasn’t yet flown to space.

Now Boeing doesn’t expect to get to those uncrewed test flights until 2017, pushing the company’s first crewed launches to 2018 at the earliest. Geekwire reports the company is having problems with the mass and aeroacoustics of its spacecraft.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is also fine-tuning the Crew Dragon–a second version of the Dragon that’s designed for human occupation. Last year the spacecraft passed a pad abort test–basically an emergency getaway plan for astronauts if there’s a launch pad disaster–and is planned for its first uncrewed flight into space in 2017. SpaceX thinks it will be able to launch with astronauts onboard that same year, which would make it the first private company to carry astronauts into space.

However, spaceflight doesn’t always run on schedule, and the private space race isn’t over yet.