The contract covers missions Crew-7, Crew-8 and Crew-9, but NASA says it might order more crew launches in the future. SpaceX began flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in 2020, marking the end of a long drought in which NASA had no direct access to the orbiting laboratory after retiring its space shuttle fleet in 2011.
During this time, NASA astronauts flew aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft while the agency worked with commercial partners to design new vehicles for the task.
In October, NASA released a request for new proposals to fly its astronauts on missions that would follow the 12 originally awarded to SpaceX and its counterpart, Boeing. The new contract marks the first flights arranged through that call. Although the contract was already in the works, the announcement comes as tensions strain NASA’s relationship with its main partner in the International Space Station collaboration, Russia, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
This is a firm fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract modification for the Crew-7, Crew-8, and Crew-9 missions, bringing the total contract value to $3,490,872,904. The period of performance runs through March 31, 2028.
The current sole source modification does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed.
SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission, the final of the earlier procured batch of flights, is expected to launch in early 2023. Currently aboard the space station is the Crew-3 mission, comprising NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Kayla Barron and Thomas Marshburn and European astronaut Matthias Maurer.
Crew-4, consisting of NASA’s Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins and Europe’s Samantha Cristoforetti is expected to replace Crew-3 in mid-April. That mission is scheduled to launch on April 15.
“It’s critical we begin to secure additional flights to the space station now so we are ready as these missions are needed to maintain a U.S. presence on station,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, said in the agency’s notice of intent to modify SpaceX’s contract, published in December 2021. “Our U.S. human launch capability is essential to our continued safe operations in orbit and to building our low-Earth orbit economy.”
NASA said in the statement the newly procured missions would cover a period up to March 31, 2028. “The current sole source modification does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed,” the agency wrote.
In that notice, NASA acknowledged that SpaceX is the only American company currently certified to transport crew to the ISS. Boeing also received a six-mission CCtCap contract from NASA in 2014, with a total value of $4.2 billion, but its Starliner spacecraft is still in its uncrewed testing phase. Its next test flight is currently scheduled for May 2022, when it will launch atop an Atlas V rocket to rendezvous with the ISS.
SpaceX was certified by NASA for crew transportation in November 2020, and currently its third crew rotation mission for the agency is in orbit. As part of the missions, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket transport up to four astronauts along with critical cargo to the space station.
NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to fly astronauts to the ISS as part of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability program.