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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) has won a fresh batch of astronaut missions from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the agency's crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit (LEO). SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule is the only vehicle that is capable of sending astronauts to the space station from U.S. soil, and it is currently working with NASA to send another batch of astronauts to space in October - that will mark the first time a Russian cosmonaut has flown on an American vehicle since the end of the Space Shuttle program.
NASA made the announcement earlier today, and with it, the agency has now paid SpaceX close $5 billion for the crewed flights under its Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) programs.
SpaceX's Latest NASA Win Comes As Agency Waits On Other Partners To Deliver Their Vehicles
SpaceX's award win comes as NASA waits on The Boeing Company to fly its Starliner capsule to the ISS, with the agency's original plans having aimed at using two carriers for redundancy and continuous access to the space station in case one vehicle became unavailable. However, as SpaceX readies itself for its sixth crewed mission to the space station in October, NASA's other crewed mission partner is yet to successfully fly its capsule to the orbiting space laboratory.
In its press release, NASA outlined that it has now contracted SpaceX for five additional missions to the ISS. These will ensure that the agency will have access to the orbiting space laboratory until 2030. The station itself is more than two decades old and saw its operational life being extended to 2030. NASA plans to deorbit the ISS in January 2031, and if these plans remain unchanged, then the latest missions for SpaceX will ensure that it provides transportation to the station until its decommissioning.
In its press release, the space agency announced that the CCtCap extension is worth $1.4 billion and it covers not only the cost of sending the astronauts to space but other associated activities as well for a full package. These activities include ground and in-orbit servicing, alongside recovering the crew after they return, providing cargo services for their journey and a lifeboat during the time that they spent in space. SpaceX recovers astronauts with its own recovery vessels, that are designed to lift the Crew Dragon capsule from the ocean onto the boat.
It also designs the spacesuits worn by them during their journey and conducts a portion of their training at its facilities in Hawthorne, California which involves familiarizing the crew with their vehicles and training them on how to operate it through a life-size model and simulators.
After the latest $1.4 billion award, the total amount that NASA will pay to SpaceX for these crewed missions sits at $4.9 billion. It indicates a growing familiarity between the pair at a crucial time for the American space program, as NASA readies itself for another Moon rocket launch attempt this Saturday and SpaceX rushes to develop its Starship next-generation rocket in Boca Chica, Texas.
Starship, which will be the world's largest rocket once operational, is also crucial to NASA's plans to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon. Its upper-stage spacecraft is the only vehicle contracted by NASA (for another $3 billion) right now that will land astronauts on the lunar surface, and SpaceX will also help NASA build its lunar gateway space station which will orbit the Moon and have astronauts dock to it before descending on the lunar surface in a SpaceX vehicle.