NASA announced they will launch their first mission, from Hawthorne, California, with SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company. It will consist on a crew rotation mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
This is the second of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts, according to a press release. The first crew mission order was received by The Boeing Company of Houston, last May.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, stated that it is exciting to see these companies working for their first crew rotation missions. Also, she added that it is important to have two strong capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew from the U.S. to the ISS.
However, NASA hasn’t decided yet which of the two companies will launch the mission first. These call for orders are made to certificate and support the companies as they get prepared for missions in late 2017.
NASA stated that commercial crew missions to the ISS will restore the U.S. spaceflight capabilities and it will increase the amount of time of scientific research made in the ISS laboratories.
SpaceX’s transportation system, that includes the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has been through a series of development and certification phases. They recently performed a critical design review, proving the system has reached a level of design maturity that will lead to further work in fabrication, assembly, integration and several tests activities.
“When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We’re honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX.
These commercial crew launches will reduce costs on transporting NASA astronauts to the ISS, compared with the prices the Russian Federal Space Agency has for the same service. However, if NASA does not get the requested funding for these contracts, in the fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay milestones for U.S. companies, and also continue to rely on Russia for transporting American astronauts.
The CCtCap contracts stipulate that they have to be made two or three years before the mission dates, so each company has time to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Also, they must complete a certification process from NASA, giving them the final approval. Each contract includes from two to six potential missions.
A standard commercial crew mission to the ISS should carry up to four crew members, as well as about 220 pounds of cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the ISS for up to 210 days.
Julie Robinson, an ISS chief scientists, stated that these commercial launches will improve the research conditions in the station, allowing them to increase the crew up to seven members. Also, Robinson said that this will set the foundation for future scientific access to commercial research.