Boeing and United Launch Alliance assert that they remain devoted to launching future CST-100 Starliner commercial crew missions on Atlas 5 rockets flat after that vehicle is effectively resigned from other missions.
With NASA planning to shift between Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for International Space Station crew rotation goals once Starliner is insured, each drifting once a year, Atlas 5 liftoffs Starliner could proceed well into the latter half of the decade. ULA, which has stopped selling Atlas 5 liftoffs, has previously examined the phasing out of Atlas 5, favoring Vulcan Centaur around the beginning of the decade.
NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel raised the interest in how uncertainties in Starliner’s growth might influence the availability of the Atlas 5 at its May 12 meeting. “Any further delays with Starliner launches would exacerbate this concern,” told David West, a member of the panel. He added that certifying Vulcan for crewed liftoffs “could take years.”
“From a resource perspective, we have measures in place to protect the talent and ensure we retain the critical skills to fly an Atlas as late as we need to,” said Gary Wentz, vice president of commercial government programs at ULA. “We’re in conversations with Boeing and other customers for that capability.”
Boeing may not be the only customer, or even the first, to pursue the human-rating of Vulcan. Sierra Space is scheduling a crewed version of its Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft. The cargo version will be inaugurated on Vulcan rockets beginning in 2023, and a crewed version could be prepared as soon as 2026.