NASA has awarded four more contracts to Boeing and to SpaceX for space taxi trips to and from the International Space Station – dependent on certification that the spacecraft are safe.
Each company has already been given contracts for two flights; the contracts announced today brings the total trips to six for each. The space taxis haven’t yet been tested in flight. SpaceX has scheduled an uncrewed demonstration flight of its Crew Dragon to the space station in November, followed by a crewed flight test in May 2018. The 12 flights covered by the follow-up contracts would go ahead once the test flights are flown and NASA certifies the taxis.
Since the space shuttle fleet’s retirement in 2011, NASA has had to depend on the Russians to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, at a cost that now amounts to more than $80 million per seat.
Each taxi flight calls for transporting up to four astronauts and about 220 pounds of critical cargo, either for scheduled crew rotation or in an emergency lifeboat situation.