NASA orders first station crew flight from Boeing
Sen—NASA has issued its first order for a U.S. spaceflight to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station to Boeing and expects to make a similar buy from SpaceX later this year.
The price of the flight, slated for late 2017, was not disclosed “due to potential future competitions for missions,” said NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Martin.
NASA placed the order after Boeing successfully completed a series of preliminary milestones, including a recent critical design review of its CST-100 capsule.
Last year, NASA awarded Boeing a contract worth up to $4.2 billion for development, two test flights and up to four operational missions to fly crew to the station.
The same number of flights is part of a second contract NASA has with SpaceX, though the total value of that award is $2.6 billion. SpaceX is developing a passenger version of its Dragon cargo ship. It will launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Boeing is flying on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5.
A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office last year calculated NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract values without the four operational missions as $3.01 billion for Boeing and $1.75 billion for SpaceX.
“We’re not releasing what NASA will pay per flight,” said Boeing spokeswoman Kelly Kaplan. “The price for the service missions is wrapped into the original award. “
In a press release, NASA said that just because Boeing was awarded the first flight order doesn’t mean that it will fly before SpaceX.
“Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contract calls for the orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for the first mission in late 2017, provided the contractors meet certain readiness conditions,” NASA said.
“Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to the missions to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. In addition, each company must successfully complete the certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight,” the agency said.
Since the United States retired its fleet of space shuttles in 2011, all station crewmembers fly on Russian Soyuz capsules. NASA pays about $70 million per seat for its astronauts.
At a press conference in January, NASA’s commercial crew program manager Kathy Leuders said that averaging the price for both the CST-100 and the Dragon, the cost would be about $12 million less per person.
The new vehicles, however, will allow NASA to add a seventh full-time member to the station’s crew, so overall crew transportation costs may be higher.