SpaceX today received its first order for the crew of NASA’s mission, making it the second private spaceflight company to be awarded the contract to launch NASA astronauts from US lower Earth orbit.
SpaceX will be expected to use his crew capsule Dragon, which can carry up to seven people to ferry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), marking the second in a series of four guaranteed orders from NASA.
Boeing, which has just started to develop its CST-100 spacecraft Starliner, was granted the contract earlier this year in May as part of a commercial crew transport capabilities of NASA (CCtCap) contracts.
“It’s really interesting to see SpaceX and Boeing equipment in the stream for their first missions, crew rotation,” says Kathy Lueders, commercial manager of NASA Crew.
“It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities of US companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments to American soil on the space station for the whole of his life.”
NASA doesn ‘t currently have its own manned spacecraft, and hopes that these commercial contracts would mean that the space agency will not rely on the Russian Soyouz Federal Space Agency rocket to take American astronauts to the ISS.
“The commercial launch of the crew will reduce the cost of space transport NASA astronauts to the ISS compared with that agency to pay the Russian Space Agency for the same service,” he explained NASA.
Nevertheless, NASA still requires funding to be approved for these contracts next year, otherwise the future manned mission will be delayed.
If it is approved, however, each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum of six missions, with standard commercial crew mission to the ISS to carry up to four astronauts, NASA-sponsored or crew members, as well as 220 pounds of pressure cargo.
The spacecraft will be required to stay on the ISS to 210 days should be available as an emergency lifeboat if necessary.
The space race
It is currently unknown if Boeing and SpaceX will be the first commercial company to launch American astronauts into space, but NASA hopes to schedule the launch for some time in 2017
According to NASA, mission orders given two or three years before you start, giving owners contract time to build its missile launch and spacecraft.
After production is complete, each company must complete the certification process before final approval is given by the flight of NASA.
“The commercial launch of the crew are really important to help us meet the demand for research on the space station, because it allows us to increase the crew of seven,” said Julie Robinson, chief scientist of the International Space Station.
“In the long term, it also establishes a scientific basis for access to future commercial research platforms with low Earth orbit.”