NASA announced that Boeing and SpaceX will be its “taxi service” to carry crews to the International Space Station (ISS).
The U.S. space agency’s Commercial Crew Program is intended to pay these companies to ferry astronauts up to the ISS, ultimately ending the U.S.’s sole reliance on Russia for transporting American astronauts to and from the station.
“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,” Phil McAlister, director of NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Development Division, said in a press statement. “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.”
NASA will remain dependent on Russian rockets to ship astronauts to the ISS until the agency’s long list of stringent safety and reliability requirements for humans on private missions is met.
SpaceX has already successfully resupplied the ISS seven times, but one SpaceX resupply mission in June of 2015 resulted in an explosion and a total loss of the spacecraft. The private company Orbital Sciences is also under contract with the space agency to resupply the ISS, but has also had failures. SpaceX and Russian company NPO Energomash are locked in a struggle to supply rocket engines to the U.S. military.
Boeing and SpaceX are both competing to be the first private company to send humans to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has a human test flight planned for October 2017, while Boeing has a flight scheduled for May 2018.
America’s plans to return to Earth’s orbit are entirely dependent on private companies, some of which are scheduled to launch by the end of next year. Astronauts installed adapters that allowed commercial spacecraft to dock with the ISS in August and give NASA less expensive options to resupply the station.
Currently, the U.S. pays Russia more than $70 million dollars per astronaut sent to the ISS. Russia has repeatedly threatened to block America access to the $150 billion ISS in response to U.S. sanctions even though the U.S. paid for 84 percent of the cost of building the station.
The last U.S. Space Shuttle to the ISS launched five years ago in July, but NASA still can’t put men into space without Russian cooperation due to President Barack Obama’s cuts to the agency’s exploration and spaceflight capability.
SpaceX and Boeing, along with other companies, have made huge advancements in reusable rocketry. Reusable space technology is considered a major advance because it has the potential to lower the costs of getting into orbit, which are high due to expensive rocket components.
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