NASA on Friday placed its first mission order to SpaceX for the form to ferry crews to the International Space Station. The order comes as great news to SpaceX as their rockets are still grounded after the June failure.
This is the second in the series of four confirmed orders that NASA plans on making under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. SpaceX will be now allowed to work on a rocket that can carry humans to space. NASA had awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to manufacture rockets to carry astronauts by 2017. Currently, NASA depends on Russia for these rockets. NASA had awarded a similar order to Boeing about six months ago, but the agency said it remained unclear about which company would fly first.
Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief said that commercial crew launches are really important for helping us meet the demand for research on the space station because it allows us to increase the crew to seven. In an another good news for SpaceX, United Launch Alliance on Monday announced that it would not bid to launch a GPS satellite for the Pentagon, leaving the company as the sole bidder. However, the two companies involved in NASA’s Commercial Crew program have similar but different approaches in meeting the directives.
SpaceX aims to send the crewed version of the spacecraft through their own Falcon 9 booster, but Boeing will use United Launch Alliance’s Atlas v 401 booster and the yet-to-be-launched Vulcan Next-Generation launch system. NASA added that both Crew Dragon and the Falcon 9 have successfully passed through development and certification phases. A Critical Design Review or “CDR” was recently completed, which implies that the system is “mature” enough to proceed to fabrication, assembly, integration and testing.
United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. faced a setback when a congressional vote banned the use of Russian rocket engines. The company’s Atlas V rocket relies on Russian-made engine, while SpaceX manufactures its own engines. CCtCap orders are placed about two to three years before the actual mission, and NASA monitors and validates each system before final approval.
If things go as planned, a normal CCP will be able to carry four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and 220 lbs or pressurized cargo to the orbiting laboratory. Since the close of the Space Shuttle Program in July 2011, NASA has been dependent on Russia for crew access to and from the ISS. Russian Soyuz has also remained at the ISS as a lifeboat. Both Crew Dragon and Starliner will be capable of docking to the ISS for 210 days, allowing the US to carry out important service on its own.[ Via ]