SpaceX Wins $1.4 Billion Contract For Five More NASA Launches

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken inside a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. Image credit: NASA

NASA extends its partnership with SpaceX, by awarding it five additional missions to carry astronauts to and from the ISS

US space agency NASA has extended its partnership with SpaceX, awarding five more crew flight missions to Elon Musk’s space venture.

NASA announced on Wednesday that it “awarded five additional missions to Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, for crew transportation services to the International Space Station.”

It has been a busy period for SpaceX. Last month, it signed a deal with American mobile operator T-Mobile US to expand mobile phone coverage in the United States – via the use of Starlink satellites.

SpaceX’s Chief Engineer Elon Musk and T-Mobile’s CEO Mike Sievert

Additional missions

NASA’s contract with SpaceX for five more missions to carry astronauts to the ISS is worth $1.4 billion.

NASA said that its (CCtCap) contract modification, brings the total missions for SpaceX to 14 and “allows NASA to maintain an uninterrupted US capability for human access to the space station until 2030, with two unique commercial crew industry partners.”

The move comes growing tensions with America’s principle ISS partner (Russia), prompting questions over the long term future of the ISS.

Russia has said it will quit the International Space Station after 2024, amid mounting geopolitical tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NASA maintains that it is confident the space station will continue to operate as it always has.

However NASA cannot currently assume control of the space station, as the Russian-controlled portion of the ISS provides the necessary propulsion to keep the space station in orbit.

“This is a firm fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract modification for the Crew-10, Crew-11, Crew-12, Crew-13, and Crew-14 flights,” said NASA of its contract with SpaceX.

It said the $1.4 billion fee for all five missions and related mission services, includes ground, launch, in-orbit, and return and recovery operations, cargo transportation for each mission, and a lifeboat capability while docked to the International Space Station.

SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule

“The period of performance runs through 2030 and brings the total CCtCap contract value with SpaceX to $4.9bn,” the space agency said.

NASA says the purchase of additional missions, does not preclude the US space agency “from seeking future contract modifications for additional transportation services, as needed.”

Astronaut taxi service

In 2014, NASA had awarded the CCtCap contracts to both Boeing and SpaceX.

Boeing’s space taxi, CST-100 Starliner, has been hampered with development problems and technical issues, leading to launch cancellations.

In May this year Boeing finally completed a successful launch of its astronaut space taxi, and the firm is targetting early 2023 for its inaugural crewed mission.

SpaceX meanwhile was certified by NASA for crew transportation in November 2020, and SpaceX’s Dragon capsule has already carried astronauts to the International Space Station on multiple occasions.

NASA said that SpaceX’s fourth crew rotation mission, the Crew-4 mission, is currently in orbit aboard the space station.

As part of the missions, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket transport up to four astronauts, along with critical cargo, to the space station.

A fifth fully operational mission is slated to take off this Autumn.