NASA announced quietly on June 1 that they are preparing to buy five more flights of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to finish out the crew rotation through the planned International Space Station lifespan. This could end up being the final missions awarded under the Commerical Crew Program, with the ISS set to retire by 2030.
NASA looking at five more Crew Dragons
In a Notice of Intent, NASA stated that it has the option to buy five more flights on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, bringing a total of 14 flights. This would extend SpaceX’s Crew Dragon’s, and by that also it’s Falcon 9 rocket, lifespan out to 2030. This would also cut short any hope from Boeing it could get more money out of Commerical Crew Program flights.
NASA’s reason for buying five more SpaceX flights rather than Boeing is to keep true to the CCP’s mission of having alternating providers launch crew rotations to the ISS. However, this will still lead to the final three crew rotations being provided by SpaceX unless there are further delays to Boeing’s Starliner.
NASA’s purchase would complete missions for ISS’ lifespan
The Biden Administration has intended to support the operations of the ISS until 2030. At that point, NASA expects to have one of more commercial options to support the agency’s low Earth orbit research. However, Russia hasn’t been so keen to continue cooperation with the United States after it invaded Ukraine in February. Russia has only agreed to support the ISS until 2024 and could pull out sooner if US relations worsen.
The ISS has been in orbit and conducting research for over 20 years. Since 2000, the ISS has been crewed by at least three astronauts every day, meaning anyone born after that year has never lived a day when someone hasn’t been in space. The retirement of the ISS will be a sad day in the spaceflight industry, and it looks like we are one step closer to having to accept the fact it will happen.
The remaining crewed missions to the ISS
|Year||Spring / First Half||Fall / Second Half|
|2022||SpaceX Crew-4 (In space now)|
Boeing OFT-2 (Completed)
Boeing Crewed Flight Test
|2023||SpaceX Crew-6||Boeing Starliner-1|
|2024||SpaceX Crew-7 †||Boeing Starliner-2|
|2025||SpaceX Crew-8 †||Boeing Starliner-3|
|2026||SpaceX Crew-9 †||Boeing Starliner-4|
|2027||SpaceX Crew-10 *||Boeing Starliner-5|
|2028||SpaceX Crew-11 *||Boeing Starliner-6|
|2029||SpaceX Crew-12 *||SpaceX Crew-13 *|
|2030||SpaceX Crew-14 *|
* Could be purchased per NASA’s Notice of Intent
It’s important to note that this isn’t a completed order yet, and NASA could still change it. If no more hiccups with Boeing’s Starliner show up, we could see Boeing getting another flight to even out the alternating lineup. We also don’t know the purpose of the final mission. They could be focused on research, with decommissioning missions being added on later.