NASA is requesting proposals for more rides to the International Space Station

bob and Doug in spacex crew dragon

NASA released a formal notice for new crewed rides to the International Space Station, answering the question what happens after SpaceX and Boeing finish their contracts.

In 2014, NASA released a similar proposal, a first-of-its-kind contract to buy rides for their astronauts from private companies to the orbiting laboratory. This development program turned into what we know today as the Commercial Crew Program, which has been praised throughout the past year as a success for privatizing human spaceflight, at least for SpaceX.

This new program, named the Commercial Crew Space Transportation Services, plans to build upon what was achieved by the agency’s previous ventures. During a press conference this week, a reporter asked what will happen when SpaceX finishes its sixth and final CCP mission in the spring of 2023. NASA stated they were working on a way to purchase more seats from the company, and this new program may be the way they will do it.

NASA will purchase one or more seats on these new services from one or more providers. The first part is a change from the current program that buys all the available seats in the spacecraft. This change shows the growth the agency has seen with commercial rides to space. Allowing the agency to share the cost of a ride to space with private citizens or corporations paying their way to the station.

Whether or not SpaceX and Boeing will be grandfathered into this program is unknown. However, we saw something similar with the Commercial Resupply Services program when the agency went through the second round of selections. Both SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, which won the first contract, had to resubmit for the second contract. This brought us the Dragon 2 spacecraft and a third contender, Sierra Nevada Corporation (now Sierra Space), and its Dream Chaser spaceplane.

Who will submit proposals?

While we won’t know for some time who submitted proposals, we can take a few (very educated) guesses as to who will. If SpaceX and Boeing need to resubmit, it is safe to say they will. While Boeing has still yet to come online as a provider, NASA looks to be its only customer at the moment. A second contract of crewed launches would be necessary for Starliner’s survival. For SpaceX, resubmitting the Crew Dragon spacecraft would be a sure win, but a small part of me can see the company submitting Starship as a viable option to replace Dragon (even if that is some time away).

Blue Origin was a contestant in the original competition but was not selected. As the most popular competitor to SpaceX, a proposal is expected. Sierra Space, then SNC, also competed against SpaceX and Boeing back in 2014. They have long wanted to turn their Dream Chaser into a crewed vehicle.

Proposals to NASA are due November 19. This may be the beginning of another round of crew vehicles being developed for the commercial market.

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