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The head of the Russian Federation's national aerospace agency, Roscosmos, indicated that he was satisfied by the number of flights made by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon, originally developed as a vehicle for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), recently crossed another historic milestone in aerospace history, when it ferried a private crew to an orbit higher than the ISS, which is a global space laboratory.
Roscosmos uses Russia's Soyuz spacecraft for its crewed flights, and it plans to stop its ISS missions by 2024. The station includes components from all over the world, and it will have spent 22 years in orbit in November, having been the only destination for travelers to space.
Russian Space Agency Head Signals Willingness To Send Cosmonauts To ISS Missions Via SpaceX Crew Dragon
Even as NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has commenced a regular cadence of flights to the ISS, the American space agency still works with Russia to ensure space station access through another vehicle.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon remains the only U.S. spacecraft capable of conducting crewed space missions, earning this distinction after completing the NASA Dragon DM-2 mission in 2020. Since then, it has launched the SpaceX Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions, with the latter set to return after a third rotation takes an international crew to the ISS on Sunday.
Roscosmos Administrator Dmitry Rogozin expressed his opinion earlier today, indicating that the Crew Dragon had sufficient flight experience to ferry Russian cosmonauts to the ISS. His statements, made at the international astronautical congress in Dubai, are as follows:
"From our viewpoint, SpaceX has gained sufficient experience for representatives of our crews to make flights aboard its spacecraft"
Administrator Rogozin is set to meet his NASA counterpart tomorrow, in the same week as the Crew Dragon's fifth crewed flight.
As part of the Crew Dragon experience, SpaceX provides custom spacesuits for each astronaut alongside training and transport. If NASA and Roscosmos reach an agreement for Dragon cosmonaut flights, it will be the first time a cosmonaut flies on an American vehicle since 2006.
At the moment, NASA and SpaceX are conducting the flight readiness review for the Crew-3 mission. This mission will fly NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn with European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Mathias Maurer to the ISS. Alongside ESA, the Japan Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) is also an active Dragon flier.
In addition to the Crew Dragon, the other CCP participant working to conduct a highly anticipated flight is The Boeing Company. Its Starliner spacecraft will fly a second uncrewed orbital test mission soon, after having to stand down from a launch attempt in late July and then in early August this year.
The Russian Soyuz has flown more than one hundred crewed missions, and it is the oldest operational spacecraft in the world. Some have speculated that NASA's Crew-4 mission expected to launch in Spring 2022 might include a cosmonaut, but SpaceX and NASA are yet to provide any details.
On the topic of discussions between NASA Administrator Nelson, the Russian space chief commented that:
"I believe that when I meet with my NASA counterpart tomorrow, we will surely discuss this issue and we will discuss substantially the cosmonauts who will fly aboard a Crew Dragon and we are ready to discuss US astronauts who will fly on a Soyuz spacecraft."
Seats on the Soyuz have cost NASA as much as $90 million, according to data from the inspector general office, a hefty amount compared to per-seat costs on the Dragon. Another OIG report highlights that the Dragon costs the space agency $55 million per seat, allowing the U.S. agency to reduce some of its flight costs.
The total costs of Soyuz seats amounted to more than $3 billion by 2018, which is more than NASA has spent on the Crew Dragon. By 2019, NASA had agreed to six roundtrips on the Crew Dragon and agreed to a $2.5 billion contract to SpaceX for these and other purposes. Out of this, the Hawthorne, California-based aerospace launch services provider had allocated $1.2 billion for development and test flights.
Roscosmos has announced its plans to cease its ISS presence by 2024, aiming to launch and operate a Russian space station.
In an interview given in May, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough described flying on the Soyuz 'smoother' than the SpaceX Dragon which ranked higher on his list than the Space Shuttle.