SpaceX is already looking past next month’s planned landmark mission of its Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.
Currently slated for May 27, the mission from Kennedy Space Center will be the first time astronauts will launch from the United States on any mission since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
Almost nine years since the final flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-135, SpaceX is ready to launch two astronauts on a test mission of Crew Dragon to certify it as the first of what NASA hopes to be two commercial vehicles to take over the regular transport of crew to the ISS.
The company founded by Elon Musk, is already prepping for the next ISS mission, though, assuming NASA signs off on the test mission. Dubbed Crew-1, the mission is set to carry three NASA astronauts and one JAXA astronaut to the ISS on the first of an initial six missions as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The program also involves Boeing, which designed the CST-100 Starliner to also take astronauts to the ISS from the U.S. as opposed to the current method of paying Russia to launch them from Kazakhstan aboard Soyuz spacecraft. Starliner, though, has yet to successfully complete its first uncrewed mission to the ISS after a computer malfunction sent the capsule into a suboptimal orbit that didn’t allow it to dock with the ISS last December. Boeing will have to reattempt the crewed mission before it can move onto the second test flight with humans on board.
SpaceX is already at that step, and will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the Demo-2 mission to the ISS launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s launch complex 39A in an attempt to gain NASA certification.
Assuming all goes well, SpaceX is prepping the next Falcon 9 rocket for its first official crewed mission to the ISS. It performed test fires on the first and second stage rockets at its facilities in McGregor, Texas this week.
Crew-1 will fly NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker plus Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
That mission will take place later this year.
Before that, Demo-2 will complete a process that first gave SpaceX success in March 2019, when it successfully launched an uncrewed Crew Dragon to the ISS, although the company faced setbacks after a post-launch test of the capsule resulted in its destruction in an explosion at KSC.
When both SpaceX and Boeing are certified, the original Commercial Crew agreement called for each company to provide six missions to the space station through 2024, a total of 12 missions between the two companies.
SpaceX had been awarded $2.6 billion to develop Crew Dragon, while Boeing received $4.2 billion for CST-100 Starliner.
The cost of using the Russian Soyuz program was $80 million per astronaut.
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