Per a quote given to Reuters by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX will stop producing Crew Dragon spacecrafts and releasing resources that could be used for Starship development.
SpaceX to cap Crew Dragon fleet to four
SpaceX’s fourth Crew Dragon, Freedom, is currently finishing production ahead of the Crew-4 launch next month. This will be the final Crew Dragon SpaceX will build as it wants to speed up the development of its replacement, Starship.
“We are finishing our final (capsule), but we still are manufacturing components, because we’ll be refurbishing,” Shotwell told Reuters. This comes as SpaceX has an increasingly growing manifest of crewed flights from both NASA and the private community ahead of it.
Including the upcoming Axiom-1 and Crew-4 missions to the space station, SpaceX has 12 flights booked on its Crew Dragon spacecraft over the next few years. Six of those flights are for NASA, four for private astronaut missions to the ISS for Axiom, and two in part of the Polaris Program. There are mostly likely more we don’t know about yet.
SpaceX will focus on ‘fleet management’
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is built to be reusable, just like the Falcon 9’s first stage, and while the company still produces Falcon 9s, most of its work is now refurbishing previously flown boosters. So this is where Dragon will move. As Shotwell said, SpaceX will still produce some parts for Dragon and will fix capsules as issues show up.
Four crew capsules might be enough to get them through its list of missions. Crewed flights are not as high-paced as SpaceX’s regular payload manifest, allowing plenty of time for capsule refurbishing. SpaceX managers have mentioned in the pass that the company will build more Crew Dragons if the demand continues to increase. So either the demand has not increased, or Elon Musk could be pushing for more Starship development.
More development moved to SpaceX’s Starship
Starship is designed to replace Crew Dragon, whether NASA or the market will accept this is unknown, but this is SpaceX’s plan. Starship rocket development has been mostly centralized at Starbase, a facility near where the Rio Grande River meets the Gulf of Mexico. However, due to regulatory and development challenges, flight progress has stalled since the system’s first successful landing. Now the development of new facilities and soon vehicles has been seen at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The freed-up resources made by halting Crew Dragon production can be allocated to Starship development, hopefully speeding up Elon Musk’s goal for an orbital launch attempt of Starship this year.