SpaceX wins $1.4b NASA contract for 5 more NASA crew launches to ISS
You haven't seen the tail end of SpaceX launches to the International Space Station (ISS) quite yet.
NASA awarded the Elon Musk-founded company a $1.4 billion contract to send five more astronaut missions to the ISS, per NASA's press release.
The contract, part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), runs through 2030 and brings the total value of the signed agreement with SpaceX to over $4.9 billion.
The contract includes ground, launch, in-orbit, and return and recovery operations, cargo transportation for each mission, and a lifeboat capability while docked to the International Space Station.
What the contract stipulates
The deal cements a long future between SpaceX and NASA, as they work closely together to launch astronauts to and from the ISS. The contract tasks SpaceX with launching five more crew missions to the ISS – from Crew-10 to Crew-14 – and "allows NASA to maintain an uninterrupted U.S. capability for human access to the space station until 2030, with two unique commercial crew industry partners," per NASA.
The two agencies first penned a deal back in 2014. At the time, they agreed to combine forces for six crewed launches at a contractual amount of $2.6 billion, as CNN reported. Their first crewed demonstration mission took off in 2020, and SpaceX has handled routine launches ever since, with its fifth mission set to launch in October this year.
NASA is banking on Boeing's first CST-100 Starliner capsule to fly astronauts to the International Space Station by February 2023, explained the space agency. However, since November 2020 and up until today, SpaceX has been the only company authorized to send certified crewed missions to space on behalf of the space agency, per Space.com.
As NASA explains, SpaceX's fourth crew rotation mission for NASA, the Crew-4 mission, is currently in orbit aboard the ISS. The contracted missions will keep utilizing SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket transportation with up to four astronauts, along with cargo, up to the ISS.
As SpaceX and NASA work closely together, the Russian space agency, Rocosmos – a major ISS partner – plans on withdrawing its presence on the space station by 2024, with designs of building its own space station. Experts now say that Russia will likely remain part of the ISS effort until at least 2028, reported Space.com.
Other SpaceX plans
SpaceX rarely stays put. Aside from these upcoming crewed ISS launches in partnership with NASA, the company recently had yet another private customer sign up to use its reusable Starship rocket to launch satellites, as we recently wrote. The customer in question, Sky Perfect JSat, plans to launch its Superbird-9 communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit in 2024.
Starship is SpaceX's next-generation launch vehicle. It will drastically reduce the cost of launches by being fully reusable. That substantial cost reduction is something SpaceX and its CEO Elon Musk hopes will allow it to send astronauts to Mars.