Featured Image Source: Roscosmos / NASA SpaceX
The United States reemerged as a space power with human spaceflight capabilities when SpaceX launched a pair of NASA astronauts on a voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) this year. On May 30, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center carrying Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft. After a two month stay at the orbiting laboratory, the astronauts returned aboard Dragon safely on August 2. NASA had not deployed astronauts to space from American soil since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. The agency purchased seats aboard Russia Roscosmos’ Soyuz spacecraft to launch astronauts to ISS ever since. Nearly a decade later, astronauts launched from the United States on American-made spacecraft once again thanks to the agency’s initiative to partner with SpaceX under the Commercial Crew Program.
Early May, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency signed a deal to book a seat aboard Soyuz to launch one astronaut to the ISS in October, and talked about potentially booking another flight for April 2021. Though, now that SpaceX has demonstrated its spacecraft is reliable to launch humans, the agency will no longer be dependent on Russia’s highly expensive spaceflights. A round-trip ticket for a seat aboard Soyuz costs roughly $90 million. The same flight to the space station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is around $55 million – nearly half the price.
An annual report published by Roscosmos suggests, NASA decided it will not buy another seat aboard Russian spacecraft in April 2021. The report also details that NASA is in discussions with Roscosmos to continue planning out the flight of one NASA astronaut aboard Russian spacecraft scheduled for October. – “At the beginning of 2020, the U.S. side announced its readiness to purchase services for the delivery of only one astronaut in the fall of 2020: the conditions are currently being discussed, the modification project is being adjusted,” the report states.
Because Crew Dragon has successfully demonstrated its capability, NASA need no longer buy Soyuz seats from Russia at increasingly steep prices. https://t.co/zMzKUgwPbv— Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) September 8, 2020
Since 2008, the United States bought 72 seats aboard Russian spacecraft, spending billions to transport astronauts to the space station. The flight scheduled for October will cost NASA around $90 million ($90,252,905.69 to be exact). According to NASA officials, before the deal was negotiated, Russia planned to fly three cosmonauts this fall to work on a new Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module, called Nauka, that will be at ISS. To compensate for the missed opportunity, NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz told Forbes reporters in June, that part of NASA’s deal with Russia will include transporting about 1,800 lbs. of Russian cargo to the space station on American spacecraft over the course of 2.5 years. – “This contract modification is $90,252,905.69 for the single crew mission seat in the fall of 2020, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and crew rescue for a long-duration mission as well as some limited crew cargo delivery to and from the station. This also includes ancillary services related to launches and landings,” Schierholz stated. “NASA has high confidence that U.S. commercial crew providers will be available in 2020/2021 and that no further Soyuz seat purchases will be necessary.”