NASA Orders Second SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

Elon Musk’s SpaceX wins additional three NASA crew-transport flights

Elon Musk’s SpaceX wins additional three NASA crew-transport flights to the International Space Station through 2028. With this contract, SpaceX’s total commercial crew transportation (CCtCap) contract value increased to $3.49 billion. Originally it was $3.49 billion issued in 2014 which was to be used for the development of American crewed launch capabilities.

NASA Orders Second SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station
Image credits- NASA

NASA announced its plans to award additional contracts in December 2021 after releasing a half-hearted Request For Information (RFI) in October. That RFI, which seemingly lacked any real NASA support for an attempt to develop one or more additional crew transport vehicles, unsurprisingly produced the conclusion that the space agency should buy more flights from its existing providers.

SpaceX was contracted to fly three more missions to the ISS: Crew-4 and Crew-5 in 2022 and Crew-6 in 2023. However, the SpaceX contract now runs through March 31, 2028 SpaceX’s next crew mission to the ISS, its fourth, is set for April 15. In the past, Nasa had acknowledged that Musk’s SpaceX is the only American company certified to transport crew to ISS. Previously, Boeing also received a six-mission CCtCap contract from NASA in 2014, with a total value of $4.2 billion. Boeing has struggled to resolve glitches with its Starliner vehicle. Boeing plans a second Starliner uncrewed test flight in May 2022.

Commercial crew programs

Furthermore, short of a second Commercial Crew Program (CCP), Boeing and SpaceX were thus the only options. Where Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has yet to successfully complete even an uncrewed test flight. It remains years behind schedule, was apparently ruled out of this contract add-on. On the other hand, SpaceX aced uncrewed and crewed Crew Dragon test flights in March 2019 and May 2020.  Eventually began operational astronaut transport missions in November 2020, making it the only logical option.

For missions seven through nine, NASA will thus pay an average of up to ~$74 million per seat. It is substantially more expensive than the ~$55 million per seat SpaceX’s first six Crew Dragon missions will cost the space agency. In a way, there’s a chance that a significant fraction of the $890 million contract value increase actually came before the addition of three more missions. Where NASA might instead be paying around $700-800 million or around $60-70M per seat for three more Dragon launches. Regardless of the complexities, it is expected that the SpaceX launch is much cheaper. In its ride-sharing efforts, the agency was also being gouged for about ~$90 million per seat to launch its astronauts on Russian Soyuz missions.