NASA has just signed a contract with SpaceX to fly 5 additional astronaut missions to the International Space Station (ISS) in a new $1.4 billion deal that changes the existing relationship between the two organizations.

That contract with SpaceX involves the use of Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rockets, which will “enable NASA to maintain an uninterrupted US capability for human access to the space station through 2030,” space agency officials said on 31 August.

The deal will cover missions from Crew-10 through Crew-14, representing about 20 seats on the spacecraft. (The Crew-5 mission is expected to launch in early October, and the Crew-4 crew is already aboard the ISS.)

Why did NASA sign a new contract with SpaceX?

While NASA is counting on Boeing’s Starliner capsule to get humans into space relatively soon, SpaceX is currently the only company certified to fly manned operational missions for the agency, points out

SpaceX also received a trio of astronaut flights from NASA in December as part of a modification to its Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities (CCtCap) contract, which was awarded in 2014.

“SpaceX’s crew transport system is the only one certified to meet NASA’s safety requirements to carry humans to the space station and to maintain the agency’s obligation to its international partners within the required timeframe,” agency officials said at the time. times.

NASA extends its participation in the ISS

SpaceX’s CCtCap deal is now worth a total of $4.9 billion, NASA officials said in a late August briefing.

NASA plans to conduct astronaut missions to the ISS until at least 2030; the agency just received an approval from President Joe Biden to extend its participation in the orbital complex for another six years beyond 2024.

However, the International Space Station’s main partner, Russia, plans to retire from the ISS after 2024 to build a space station of its own; however that new station may not be ready until 2028, experts say.

It is not yet known how NASA and the remaining ISS partners will manage to fill the operational gaps left by the Russians, such as periodically boosting the space station to keep it at the right altitude above Earth.

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