UNITED STATES: NASA announced on Wednesday (August 31) that SpaceX will launch 5 more astronaut missions to the International Space Station for NASA at the end of the decade as part of a US $1.4 billion contract order, bringing the company’s total number of contracted missions for its Crew Dragon astronaut capsule to 14.
As Boeing, the other business with a similar crew transportation contract has failed to complete the development of its Starliner space capsule, the new increase to SpaceX’s NASA contract is part of the agency’s effort to maintain a constant flow of astronaut missions to the space station.
With the help of two special commercial crew industry partners, the award “allows NASA to sustain an unbroken US capacity for human access to the space station through 2030,” the agency said in a statement.
The space station is an orbital research facility that has hosted international crews of astronauts for more than 20 years.
In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing each received multibillion dollar contracts from NASA to develop, test, and regularly fly space capsule systems capable of transporting astronauts to and from the space station.
Since being crew-certified in 2020, when SpaceX became the first private business to launch people into orbit and resurrected NASA’s in human spaceflight programme after the US shuttle programme ended in 2011, the reusable Crew Dragon spacecraft has performed five crewed trips for NASA.
Before NASA can approve the spacecraft for regular astronaut flights, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, which has been plagued by software bugs and valve issues, plans to launch its first crew of astronauts in February of next year.
NASA initially gave each company six crew trips, but in early 2022, in response to Boeing’s technical difficulties, it ordered three more from SpaceX.