NASA has confirmed that SpaceX, the private space company, will be granted a contract to create spaceships to fly astronauts to the International Space Station by 2016. The confirmation comes after NASA awarded a $2.6 billion contract to the Elon Musk-led space cargo business to carry a flight into space last year.
NASA’s newest announcement formalizes the deal, in which SpaceX will load its Crew Dragon ship with crew before sending it into space.
SpaceX and Boeing both have NASA contracts through the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program, an initiative which allows the two companies a chance to create and operate crafts that can carry NASA astronauts to the ISS and back. At the moment, NASA does not have a primary spacecraft and relies on the Russian Soyuz rocket, which costs $80 million to get one American astronaut into space. Commercial Crew will allow US astronauts the ability to get onto the ISS on American-made spaceships again, which will lower the price tag.
“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager, Kathy Lueders, said.
It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.
NASA guarantees it will make no less than four orders from both companies for manned missions to the ISS, according to the contracts. Boeing received its first official order in May, six months before SpaceX got one. Both are still looking to be the first to launch a mission. NASA will decide the schedule later. And unless NASA can receive the funding it requested, the space agency may postpone the launches.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has urged Congress to release more funds. He says unless the funding shortfall is covered, the launch won’t happen in 2017 and will likely have to be pushed back to the following year.