NASA might not have to lean on Russia again to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. Ars Technica notes the agency has bought five extra crewed ISS flights from SpaceX, or enough to maintain “uninterrupted” US staffing aboard the station until its expected 2030 demise. While NASA still intends to use Boeing’s Starliner, the new SpaceX missions will be necessary to fulfill plans for alternating between the two companies once both are an option.
The extra flights could be used as soon as 2026. They’ll help with redundancy and keep the ISS operating safely if any problems prevent Boeing or SpaceX from launching in a timely fashion, NASA said. At present, SpaceX is the only private company certified to fly astronauts. Boeing isn’t expected to fly its first operational mission until 2023.
This might not deprive Boeing of more chances to fly astronauts to the ISS. If NASA doesn’t order more flights, however, the company will have missed its big chance to one-up SpaceX. The current arrangement provides a total of 14 Crew Dragon missions versus just six Starliner trips — the aerospace giant will have lost a large chunk of its potential business to a relative newcomer.
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