Although NASA's Commercial Crew Program continues to show progress – the first SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight could take place on March 2 – there is no guarantee that the vehicles will be ready for operational flights to the International Space Station early in 2020.
The last contracted flight between NASA and Russia is scheduled for a mission scheduled for launch in July. The Soyuz MS-13 vehicle will transport cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov, NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano for a six- or seven-month stay aboard the International Space Station. After that, NASA may no longer have staff members in the orbiting laboratory.
Last year, the agency's aerospace safety advisory committee had warned the agency that because of potential delays in the commercial crew program, NASA should consider To buy more Soyuz seats in Russia. "NASA senior officials should work with the administration and Congress to ensure that US crewmembers have continued access to ISS, until the ability of the United States to United to send the crew to ISS be established, "recommended the safety committee.
That's what NASA does. In an online marketplace, reported for the first time by NASASpaceFlight.com, the agency announced that it was considering signing a contract with Roscosmos, the Russian state space company, for two additional seats in Soyuz. These flights, from one crew member each, would take place in the fall of 2019 and in the spring of 2020. These two seats would ensure the presence of an American team on the station until the end of the year. in September 2020.
The public market does not specify the price of the seats, which cost NASA $ 81 million the last time the agency bought them in Roscosmos. This cost includes flight training on the Soyuz Space Shuttle. It is likely that some members of Congress, who have been fully funding the commercial crew program since 2017 to end NASA's reliance on transportation, will be unhappy with the demand for additional funds to pay for Russia.
The alternative is untenable, says NASA. "The consequences of the absence of an American crew on ISS deserve to be protected by the acquisition of additional seats," says the purchasing manager. "The absence of US crew members at any time would reduce the operations of the ISS to an inoperable state."
In its latest update earlier this month, NASA predicted that SpaceX would make its first crewed mission to the space station in July 2019 and that Boeing would make its first crewed mission at the earliest in August. However, these dates may slip further. In addition, the certification of SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner vehicles for an "operational" mission will likely take several months after the first crew test flights.
"Even after the US team program has completed its testing program, history has shown that it is difficult to develop an operational flight rate," says the purchasing manager. . "There will be launch delays, this overlap in the crew's carrying capacity ensures the safety of operations and research activities on ISS."