NASA will pay $1.4 billion for five more flights to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The deal is part of the Commercial Crew program, which pays for flights to the International Space Station on privately owned spacecraft.
This extension will provide flights on the Crew Dragon through 2030. This is the third time this year that NASA extended SpaceX’s contract. In June, it called the extensions necessary to maintain a regular rotation on the International Space Station.
It also expressed confidence in Boeing’s progress with its competing spacecraft, Starliner, after a successful test in which it flew to and from the space station. However, Starliner has experienced significant delays, leaving the Crew Dragon as NASA’s only option for launching astronauts from U.S. soil – at least for now.
Space station crews typically spend five to six months on the space station, with individual astronauts and cosmonauts occasionally spending up to a year on the International Space Station.
NASA anticipates retiring the International Space Station in the 2030s as it ramps up for the Artemis program. It had to delay the uncrewed test flight, Artemis I, last Monday due to an issue with an engine but set a new launch date for September 3.
Some pundits have doubted whether the International Space Station would even make it to 2030, given the current geopolitical climate. Russia has threatened to deorbit the station amid diplomatic tensions over its invasion of Ukraine.
Dmitry Rogozin even went so far as to threaten Elon Musk, though he has since been ousted as chief of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. Rogozin had especially become known for his bluster, previously referring to American-built spacecraft as “broomsticks” and suggesting that the United States could send its astronauts to the space station on a trampoline. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was characteristically quick to retort.
However, NASA seems confident that the partnership will continue at least until it is ready to retire the International Space Station. It even finalized deals with Roscosmos that include launching cosmonauts on the Crew Dragon. Cosmonaut Anna Kikina will fly with Crew-5, with launch currently slated for October 3.
The $1.4 billion for the additional five Crew Dragon launches represents a cost savings for NASA over launches on the Russian Soyuz. These savings are possible because SpaceX reuses its fleet of four Crew Dragons and the first stage boosters of its Falcon 9 rockets.