NASA wants to bring some of its space launches back to American soil so that it’s not always depending on other nations to resupply the International Space Station and future space missions with cold, hard supplies and astronauts to use them. As a result, it’s working with two major commercial space companies: Boeing and SpaceX.
NASA already has contracts with Boeing to send astronauts into space two times, and SpaceX had a contact to do it once, but NASA appears to have reached out to SpaceX for a second time to order another space launch, giving Boeing and SpaceX equal share in the commercial space flight opportunities ahead in the future of space exploration.
Image Credit: SpaceX/NASA
"The order of a second crew rotation mission from SpaceX, paired with the two ordered from Boeing will help ensure reliable access to the station on American spacecraft and rockets," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a statement. "These systems will ensure reliable U.S. crew rotation services to the station, and will serve as a lifeboat for the space station for up to seven months."
NASA explains in the statement that this is the “fourth and final guaranteed order“ that NASA will place. This is because the contracts detailed that each company would produce the equipment necessary to withstand a minimum of two missions each, but a maximum of six. It’s up to NASA to order more than the two that have been ordered already.
Boeing and SpaceX have both already begun manufacturing the equipment that will be necessary to make these missions a reality. The initial orders from NASA for both companies were placed last year.
With the spotlight now on SpaceX following the second mission order, SpaceX is currently manufacturing four of its Crew Dragon spacecraft that will deliver astronauts into space. Two of them are for testing, while the other two are for the official missions, which may occur as soon as next year.
These spacecraft will have enough room to seat four astronauts, and carry 220 pounds of luggage. After being sent to the International Space Station, it can then dock there for at least 210 days, serving as an emergency escape craft if needed.
Soon, NASA will send a seventh crew member to the International Space Station using these commercial spacecraft.
“With the commercial crew vehicles from Boeing and SpaceX, we will soon add a seventh crew member to space station missions, which will significantly increase the amount of crew time to conduct research,” said Julie Robinson, NASA’s International Space Station chief scientist. “Given the number of investigations waiting for the crew to be able to complete their research, having more crew members will enable NASA and our partners to significantly increase the important research being done every day for the benefit of all humanity."
It will be great to see who has the more reliable spacecraft in future testing; Boeing, or SpaceX. It will also be very beneficial for the push for more American-based space exploration without the need to depend on international entities.