SpaceX has been awarded a second post-certification mission order for its Crew Dragon manned spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA says that the new contract, which could lead to as many as six flights, will put the United States back into the manned spaceflight game and free US crews to spend more time on scientific research.
Today's award marks the fourth and final guaranteed order by NASA under its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program. Boeing received two orders in May and December of 2015 for its Starliner spacecraft, and SpaceX got its first order in November 2015. Both companies are charged with building and testing their spacecraft and support facilities, then, after certification, flying at least two and up to six missions each to the ISS.
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No dates have been set for the first missions and nor has it been determined which spacecraft will fly first, but CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates. This allows SpaceX and Boeing time to assemble their launch vehicles and spacecraft as well as completing the certification process.
SpaceX is making four Crew Dragon spacecraft – two for qualification testing and two for flight tests in 2017. During missions to the ISS, the Crew Dragon will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored astronauts and about 220 lb (100 kg) of pressurized cargo to the ISS. It will remain at the station for up to 210 days to act as an emergency lifeboat.
"With the commercial crew vehicles from Boeing and SpaceX, we will soon add a seventh crew member to space station missions, which will significantly increase the amount of crew time to conduct research," says Julie Robinson, NASA's International Space Station chief scientist. "Given the number of investigations waiting for the crew to be able to complete their research, having more crew members will enable NASA and our partners to significantly increase the important research being done every day for the benefit of all humanity."Source: NASA