WASHINGTON — NASA plans to purchase five more Crew Dragon missions to the International Space Station from SpaceX, a move the agency says is necessary to ensure long-term access to the station.
In a procurement notice issued June 1, NASA announced plans to issue a single-source amendment to its existing Commercial Crew Transport Capabilities, or CCtCap, contract with SpaceX to add five missions to the station. later this decade.
NASA said in the filing that it had to add the missions to the contract for several reasons, including delays in the development and certification of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew vehicle, projections of when the additional missions would be needed and “the technical challenges associated with establishing and maintaining flight-capable crew transport systems every six months.
The advisory adds that the additional missions will “provide redundant and back-up capabilities through 2030” for the ISS. The White House announced late last year its intention to extend ISS operations until 2030, an extension supported by other partner stations except Russia.
In a blog post published without fanfare by NASA in late June, agency officials said the additional missions will ensure they can get Starliner into service without rushing it. “It is critical that we complete Starliner development without undue schedule pressure while working to position Boeing and SpaceX for sustainable operations in the years to come,” said Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager for the company. Nasa.
“Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test 2 went very well and we hope to be able to certify the Starliner system in the near future,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA. “However, we will require additional missions from SpaceX to implement our strategy of having each commercial vendor rotate missions once a year.”
The original CCtCap awards given to Boeing and SpaceX in 2014 provided each company with six operational or post-certification missions. Boeing has yet to fly post-certification missions, as Starliner is still in the testing phase. SpaceX is currently on its fourth post-certification mission, Crew-4, which launched at the station in April.
NASA, anticipating that SpaceX would soon complete all six missions while Starliner was still in development, awarded SpaceX three additional missions in February for $776 million. The new modification, if it goes ahead, would bring the total number of post-certification missions assigned to SpaceX to 14.
By the time SpaceX begins flying these additional missions, Boeing’s Starliner should be in service. NASA and Boeing officials said after OFT-2’s uncrewed test flight was completed on May 25 that they believe they can conduct a crewed test flight as early as the end of this year. . If successful, Starliner could begin post-certification missions as early as fall 2023, following the launch of SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission scheduled for spring 2023.
If that schedule is met and NASA is able to alternate missions between the two companies, Boeing’s current contract would support missions launched through 2028. SpaceX’s extended contract would allow missions through 2030 , with SpaceX returning to two missions a year after Boeing contracted. .
NASA said in the statement that the planned expansion for SpaceX “does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed.” In Boeing’s case, an expansion would likely also require certification of a new launch vehicle, as its current Starliner missions would have to fly the Atlas 5, a vehicle that United Launch Alliance no longer offers for sale and plans to retire. , probably with the last Starliner mission.