Because NASA is interested in continuing to send astronauts to the International Space Station for at least the next ten years, the United States-based space agency has ordered an additional four launches from its commercial space company partners, including Boeing and SpaceX.
Image Credit: NASA
These launches will be a part of the existing contracts the space agency already has in place with these companies, so while no new agreements have been signed, it does help keep the flow of space missions steady for the future.
No manned space capsules from either of the two commercial companies have been sent into space to date, but the two companies are expected to start sending manned space capsules into space sometime in the next couple of years, perhaps as soon as 2018.
The point of ordering these launches ahead of time is to allow the commercial space companies the time they need to plan and prepare for the missions. After all, a lot of thought and preparations go into making the crew capsules and equipment just right so that they’re safe for the astronauts who will be launched into space inside of them.
"Awarding these missions now will provide greater stability for the future space station crew rotation schedule, as well as reduce schedule and financial uncertainty for our providers," said Phil McAlister, director, NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Development Division. “The ability to turn on missions as needed to meet the needs of the space station program is an important aspect of the Commercial Crew Program.”
Each capsule will be capable of launching as many as seven people to the International Space Station at a time, but rather than maxing it out on its first attempt, NASA will start with four astronauts, which is higher than the standard three that usually go up in the reliable Russian Soyuz spacecraft at this day and age.
In addition to the four astronauts, the capsule will carry around 220 pounds of cargo for the International Space Station, which will be used by the astronauts. This cargo might include food, experiments, and other paraphernalia.
After all is said and done, this is a move to help bring space launches back to American soil. NASA’s commercial space partners can help reduce our dependence on other nations to send astronauts to the International Space Station, something NASA has wanted for a long time since the retirement of the space shuttle.