SpaceX has halted production of its Crew Dragon astronaut capsules, an insider at the private space firm told Reuters.
SpaceX has shifted its focus towards building its next-generation reusable launch vehicle, Starship, in recent months and years. With the rocket's orbital maiden flight possibly happening as soon as May, the company has shifted its resources away from the Crew Dragon capsule.
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SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told Reuters that SpaceX is finishing its final capsule, "but we still are manufacturing components, because we'll be refurbishing." Shotwell did note that SpaceX will be able to manufacture more Crew Dragons in the future if the need arises, but it is currently focusing on other aspects of its space fleet.
SpaceX's Starship launch has been delayed for months due to development delays as well as extended regulatory reviews. Yesterday, the FAA announced once again that it was extending its review process for Starship, which is required to give SpaceX the green light to launch the rocket into orbit.
With the production of new Crew Dragons halted, SpaceX will continue to operate its fleet of four existing Crew Dragon capsules, which have been used to take astronauts up to the International Space Station (ISS) on missions such as Demo-2 and Crew-1, as well as civilians up to orbit on the private Inspiration4 mission.
Preparing for Mars
With the production of new Crew Dragon capsules ending, there is a possibility that new safety issues will arise as each capsule's reuse tally reaches unprecedented numbers. After each crewed SpaceX flight, the Crew Dragon capsules undergo refurbishment at SpaceX's Florida facilities, which is known as "Dragonland" within the company. SpaceX keeps an eye out and quickly fixes any issues that arise. In November last year, for example, a leaky toilet in one of the capsules used for returning ISS astronauts was fixed once the capsule returned to Earth.
NASA has awarded SpaceX $3.5 billion in contracts for taking astronauts up to the ISS. The private space company has so far flown four crews of astronauts at a cost of approximately $255 million per flight. Spaceflight manager Axiom Space has also contracted SpaceX to take a series of private spaceflights to the ISS, starting with Ax-1 scheduled in April.
Last week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said things were going well with the manufacturing of the company's Raptor 2 engines, which will be used for Starship. "We'll have 39 flightworthy engines built by next month, then another month to integrate, so hopefully May for orbital flight test," he wrote. If all goes to plan, Starship will radically boost humanity's capacity for spaceflight, leading to an eventual trip to Mars for humans sometime in the 2030s.