NASA not planning to buy more Soyuz seats
NASA has no plans to sign another agreement with the Roscosmos State Corporation to continue astronaut transportation services to the International Space Station (ISS) via the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The last half-billion dollar deal for six Soyuz seats, which was signed last year, ends with the Soyuz MS-11 mission scheduled for launch in November 2018 and landing in early 2019.
Spaceflight Now reported NASA officials are not considering extending the current contract with Russia for more launches after 2018. Moreover, even if the agency would be interested in buying additional Soyuz seats, the deadline to order new flights may have already passed.
Roscosmos needs more than two years to assemble a Soyuz-MS spacecraft. Although a deadline for a new agreement has not been specified, orders would need to be placed no later than this fall to ensure the first spacecraft on the list would be ready for launch in time.
“We may have actually crossed the deadline, so we’re not really looking at that. There is still sufficient overlap, and we could still do things during the overlap period,” Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, told SpaceFlight Now.
The current contract, which expires in early 2019, was announced by NASA in August 2015. It sets the price at $82 million for one Soyuz seat. Overall, between 2006 and 2018 NASA will have paid Russia approximately $3.4 billion to transport 64 NASA and partner astronauts to and from the orbital laboratory.
“We are not presently looking at any additional (Soyuz) seats beyond those that we have already purchased,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said last month, during a press conference at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.
If the contract is not extended, beginning in 2019 NASA will have to rely on commercial crew services provided by Boeing and SpaceX to sustain its presence on the ISS. However, the commercial crew flights, initially scheduled to begin in 2015, have already been delayed several times.
Commercial Crew Program falls behind
SpaceX is eyeing the end of 2017 for the first piloted flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft. However, the company is currently performing an investigation into the loss of its Falcon 9 rocket during a launch pad explosion Sept. 1, 2016. Although the Hawthorne, California-based company has not yet rescheduled the 2017 test flight, there are worries it may be delayed to 2018.
Meanwhile, Boeing’s first test flight of its CST-100 spacecraft has been recently postponed from December 2017 to June 2018. The reschedule was caused by delays and minor component qualification test issues, as well as delays stemming from a spacecraft dome element that was damaged during the manufacturing process.
The OIG’s report concluded:
The Commercial Crew Program continues to face multiple challenges to accomplishing its objectives, most prominently addressing the significant technical issues that have replaced funding shortfalls as the main contributor to schedule delays. Consequently, the start of regular crewed missions to the ISS by Boeing or SpaceX before late 2018 is unlikely.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.