February 26, 2024

NASA has Purchased 5 More Crew Dragon Missions, Keeping the ISS Going Until 2030

On November 15th, 2020, NASA and SpaceX made history when a crewed spacecraft– the Crew Dragon Resilience– took off from American soil and provided 4 astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). This mission (designated Crew-1) was a culminating achievement for NASAs Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and effectively restored domestic launch capability to the U.S. for the very first time because the Space Shuttles retirement in 2011. As of April, SpaceXs launch cars and spacecraft were utilized to install the first all-private Axiom Mission-1 and the fourth flight of the CCP (Crew-4).
Building on this success, NASA just recently submitted a Notice Of Intent (NOI) to acquire 5 extra Crew Dragon spacecraft. This decision is based in big part on the hold-ups suffered by Boeing– NASAs other CCP business partner– and the advancement of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. But maybe the most significant takeaway from this filing is how it declares NASAs dedication to the ISS till 2030. With the current withdrawal of the Russians from the ISS program, the future of the station has actually been rather uncertain.

The International Space Station imaged in orbit around Earth. Credit: NASA
The NOI was submitted on Jun 1st, 2022, at 02:09 PM EDT (11:09 AM PDT) on behalf of NASAs Kennedy Space Center. According to the Notice, NASA will be purchasing 5 extra Crew Transportation Systems (CTS) as part of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities (CCtCap) agreement they signed with SpaceX. The function of this, it states, is so that NASA can maintain turning teams aboard the ISS and continue to fulfill its commitments to its worldwide partners– which remains in keeping with the NASA Authorization Act of 2015. As it specifies:

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On November 15th, 2020, NASA and SpaceX made history when a crewed spacecraft– the Crew Dragon Resilience– lifted off from American soil and delivered 4 astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). According to the Notice, NASA will be buying five extra Crew Transportation Systems (CTS) as part of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities (CCtCap) agreement they signed with SpaceX. The function of this, it specifies, is so that NASA can maintain turning teams aboard the ISS and continue to meet its responsibilities to its international partners– which is in keeping with the NASA Authorization Act of 2015. In brief, Jeff Bezos, United Launch Alliance, Lockheed Martin, or any other SpaceX competitor have a week to convince NASA to go with their concepts rather!
It is little wonder why NASA would choose to turn to SpaceX as soon as again to address its issues concerning the ongoing operation of the ISS, something that the present geopolitical situation has actually cast doubt on.

” It is the policy of the United States to preserve a continuous capability for human area flight and operations in low-Earth orbit, and beyond, as a necessary instrument of national security and the ability to guarantee continued United States involvement and management in the exploration and usage of space …
” [A] warding five extra PCMs to SpaceX will ensure redundant and backup abilities through 2030, which is necessary for the following factors: (i) the commitment to supply continuous flight availability for the safe operation of the ISS; (ii) the capacity for accidents or anomalies; (iii) the potential for unforeseen external elements; and, (iv) dangers connected with the design of a safe and reliable CTS.”
NASAs decision to extend its dedication to the ISS until 2030 was officially announced in December 2021. In action, the U.S., the EU, and other ISS partner nations imposed sanctions on Russia and suspended cooperation with its federal space agency (Roscosmos).
Boeings CST-100 Starliner team ship approaches the International Space Station above the south Pacific on May 20th, 2022. Credit: NASA
According to the Notice, NASAs choice was likewise inspired by concerns regarding the advancement of CTS cars by both companies contracted through the CCP– Boeing and SpaceX. Whereas SpaceX handled to perform a successful uncrewed rendezvous with the ISS (Demo-1) and an effective crewed rendezvous (Demo-2) in between March 2019 and May 2020, Boeings Starliner stopped working to reach the ISS due to a technical mistake. On May 20th, 2022, the Starliner managed to successfully launch and rendezvous with the ISS (and has since returned).
However, at this point, NASA is not supremely positive that Boeing will have the ability to validate the Starliner and meet its responsibilities under the CCP in the future. These hold-ups highlight the need for backup spacecraft to guarantee that crew replacements can continue to be sent to the ISS without disruption. As the Notice states:
” Due to the technical and schedule obstacles experienced by Boeing, the variety of objectives formerly granted to Boeing and SpaceX, NASA forecasts of when alternative crew transport systems will be available, and the technical challenges connected with establishing and preserving a CTS ability for crewed flights to the ISS around every 6 months, it is needed to award 5 additional PCMs to SpaceX.”
While the Notification is non-competitive, NASA suggested that “interested organizations” are free to submit proposals within 15 days of the NOIs issuance– by 05:00 PM EDT (02:00 PM PDT) on June 16th, 2022. Based upon the abilities and credentials of these proposals, NASA will choose whether to conduct the acquisition on a competitive basis. Simply put, Jeff Bezos, United Launch Alliance, Lockheed Martin, or any other SpaceX competitor have a week to encourage NASA to go with their concepts rather!
SpaceX Crew Dragon docks at the ISS. Credit: SpaceX
This Notice highlights the rather lucrative relationship that NASA and SpaceX have actually taken pleasure in recently. Because 2010, NASA has contracted with this company to offer routine launch services for payloads to the ISS. As of 2020, it is now reliant on SpaceX to send astronaut crews there, hence releasing the firm of its previous reliance on Roscosmos and Russian launch services. It is little marvel why NASA would pick to turn to SpaceX once again to resolve its concerns concerning the ongoing operation of the ISS, something that the existing geopolitical scenario has actually cast doubt on.
In the coming years, SpaceX will likewise offer the Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis III mission– the first crewed objective to the Moon considering that the Apollo Era. According to the mission architecture, the reusable Lunar Starship (or Starship HLS) will release independently from the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft that will bring the 4 Artemis III astronauts. The Lunar Starship will refuel in orbit, and after that rendezvous in Cis-Lunar space with the Orion, at which point two of the astronauts will move to the HLS and venture down to the surface of the Moon.
Still, the door is open for a little competition, which benefits spaceflight. So if youve got a beef with Musk (nowadays, who doesnt?) and have an aerospace company behind you, get on that!
More Reading: SAM.gov
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