Restoring human spaceflight launch capabilities for the US is a major effort being managed by NASA—direct flights from Florida's Space Coast to the International Space Station (ISS) will enable US crews to devote more of their valuable time to research—these projects are involved in formulating the necessary steps for deep space missions, including a US journey mission to Mars.
NASA has now ordered a second post-certification mission from SpaceX—this is the fourth and final guaranteed order NASA will assign under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Boeing received their two CCtCap orders in May and December of 2015, and SpaceX's first order was received in November 2015. Both companies have started planning for, building and testing the necessary hardware and assets to carry out their first flight tests and, ultimately, missions for the agency.
NASA took another important step Friday in returning U.S. astronaut launches from U.S. soil with the order of a second post-certification mission from commercial provider SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. Commercial crew flights from Florida's Space Coast to the International Space Station will restore America's human spaceflight launch capability and increase the time U.S. crews can dedicate to scientific research, which is helping prepare astronauts for deep space missions, including the Journey to Mars.
At a later time, NASA will identify which company will fly the first post-certification mission to the space station. Each provider's contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions. SpaceX met the criteria for this latest award after it successfully completed interim developmental milestones and internal design reviews for its Crew Dragon spacecraft, Falcon 9 rocket and associated ground systems.
SpaceX is building four Crew Dragon spacecraft at their Hawthorne facility—two for qualification testing and two for flight tests that are scheduled for next year. The company is also in the process of modifying Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, from which the company will launch future crewed missions to the space station. A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry as many as four crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo and remain on-station for as long as 210 days.
Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company must also successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight.
NASA's Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency's safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program will also be involved in all operational phases of missions.
NASA's International Space Station Chief Scientist, Julie Robinson, added that with the commercial crew vehicles from Boeing and SpaceX, the agency will soon add a seventh crew member to space station missions, which will significantly increase the amount of crew time to conduct research. Given the number of investigations waiting for the crew to be able to complete their research, having more crew members will enable NASA and partners to significantly increase the important research being done every day.
According to Kathy Lueders, Manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, these systems will ensure reliable US crew rotation services to the station and will serve as a lifeboat for the space station for as much as seven months."
Gwynne Shotwell, the SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, added that her company is most appreciative of the trust NASA has placed in the company with this order for another crew mission.