Russians can stick their Soyuz, we can do it for less, say Yanks

October 3, 2015 – 01:42 am

ISS against a spring moonCrew and cargo resupply missions will be launched from US soil by 2017, with SpaceX and Boeing both sending rival systems into low Earth orbit from now on.

"I don't ever want to write another check to Roscosmos after 2017, " said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a press conference at the Johnson Space Center, referring to the Russian Federal Space Agency. "If we can make that date, I'll be a happy camper."

Bowden said that NASA was essentially handing over low-Earth orbit operations to the commercial sector and will be concentrating all of its efforts on deep space exploration and planning the route to Mars. Going forward, low-level stuff will be farmed out to Boeing and SpaceX.

Both companies have now passed the first testing milestone of their space capsules – Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Dragon. NASA administrators said the two firms were offering a cost per astronaut of $58m per launch, while the Russians are currently charging $70m. Recent politics have also made dealing with Putin's government tricky.

Boeing is slightly ahead of SpaceX in testing its capsules for human use and will make the first crew delivery in 2017, said NASA Commercial Crew Program (CCP) Manager Kathy Lueders. It isn’t a contest between the two firms, she said, as NASA wants at least two firms to be available to offer ISS resupply missions in the future.

The Boeing CST-100 capsule will carry four crew members and a load of cargo and John Elbon, general manager of Boeing Space Exploration, said that each capsule was designed to be reused ten times (with refurbishment) for deliveries to the ISS.

SpaceX's Dragon capsule will hold seven astronauts, or five and the same amount of cargo as Boeing's capsule, the firm's president Gwynne Shotwell told the press conference. Unlike Boeing's machine, the Dragon capsule is also seeking certification to land on terra firma under rocket power – eliminating that whole sea-bound splashdown and retrieval cycle.

But there's a long way to go before that happens. Shotwell said that the Falcon 9 rocket would make at least 50 launches before crew members are put aboard and both companies will send up an unmanned spaceship before risking human transport.


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