Five more Crew Dragon missions will be purchased by NASA

NASA and SpaceX created history on November 15, 2020, when the Crew Dragon Resilience, a crewed spacecraft, launched from American soil and transported four people to the ISS (International Space Station). This mission (named Crew-1) was the pinnacle of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), restoring domestic launch capabilities to the United States for the first moment since the Space Shuttle’s retirement in 2011. SpaceX’s launch vehicles and spacecraft have been used to launch the maiden all-private Axiom Mission-1 and the 4th flight of the CCP as of April (Crew-4).

NASA filed an NOI (Notice Of Intent) to acquire 5 more Crew Dragon spacecraft, building on their success. Boeing, NASA’s other CCP commercial partner, has experienced delays in the construction of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which has influenced this decision. The most important lesson from this file is how it reinforces NASA’s commitment to the International Space Station until 2030. The station’s future has been cast into doubt following Russia’s recent pullout from the program.

The additional trips will “provide redundancy and backup capabilities for the International Space Station through 2030,” according to the announcement. With the exception of Russia, the White House revealed at the close of last year its intention to prolong ISS operations through 2030.

NASA officials say the additional missions will let them put Starliner into service without hastening it in a blog post posted late June 1 with little notice. “It’s vital that we finish Starliner development without putting too much strain on the schedule, while also working to establish both SpaceX and Boeing for long-term operations,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager.

“Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2 went extremely well, and we hopefully will be able to validate the Starliner system in the coming years,” NASA’s Phil McAlister, who is the commercial space director, stated. “However, we will require extra missions from SpaceX in order to carry out our objective of having every commercial provider fly alternate missions once a year.”

Boeing and SpaceX have received 6 operational (or post-certification) quests from the CCtCap in 2014. Boeing has yet to execute any post-certification missions on the Starliner because it is still in testing. Crew-4 is SpaceX’s 4th post-certification mission, having arrived at the station in April.

While the Starliner was yet in development, NASA awarded SpaceX three more missions in February for $776 million, believing that SpaceX would finish all 6 missions quickly. If the proposed amendment is approved, SpaceX will have been given a total of 14 post-certification missions.

By the moment SpaceX commences flying those additional missions, Boeing’s Starliner should be operational. As a result of the finishing of the OFT-2 uncrewed flight test on May 25, Boeing and NASA officials announced that a crewed test flight would be possible before the end of the year. If all works out, Starliner may begin post-certification trips as soon as the fall of the year 2023, following the launch of SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission in the spring of that year.

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