The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has decided to give Elon Musk-headed SpaceX additional orders for three Crew Dragon Flights. Boeing’s persisting delay in solving the technical glitches of its Starliner spacecraft is the reason behind the decision. NASA has to keep the crew rotations to and from the International Space Station intact and cannot delay the process.
The newly commissioned SpaceX flights are expected as soon as 2023, NASA mentioned in its notice of a ‘sole source contract modification’ The value of the contract revision is not known at the moment.
NASA Commercial Crew Program
NASA started Commercial Crew Program in 2010, allowing the private sector companies to produce cost-efficient ways to get astronauts to the International Space Station. The companies had to bid for the contracts to build space transportation systems adhering to the parameters set forth by NASA. SpaceX and Boeing won the contracts.
NASA awarded the orders for six flights each to both Boeing and SpaceX to carry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX successfully launched its Crew Dragon capsule in May 2020 and took NASA astronauts off US soil for the first time since 2011. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is now halfway of its initial contract signed in 2014.
Boeing is facing a delay in fulfilling its contract with NASA due to a valve issue. The aerospace manufacturer designed the Boeing Starliner spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The Starliner can accommodate seven astronauts, or a mix of crew and cargo, for missions to low-Earth orbit.
Both Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules are designed as reusable. Boeing’s Starliner can be recycled up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time. It also features wireless internet and tablet technology for crew interfaces.
SpaceX even recycles its Falcon 9 rocket, which it uses to launch Crew Dragon capsules. SpaceX was new compared to Boeing at the time of signing the first contract and raised some concerns among the aerospace experts on its ability to fulfil the mission. However, SpaceX shut them all through its success.