The Growing Cost of Not Having Direct Access to ISS

At the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 49 crewmembers Shane Kimbrough of NASA (left) and Sergey Ryzhikov (center) and Andrey Borisenko (right) of Roscosmos pose for pictures Sept. 9 in front of their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft during a pre-launch training fit check. Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko will launch Sept. 24, Kazakh time on the Soyuz MS-02 vehicle for a five-month mission on the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov)
Expedition 49 crewmembers Shane Kimbrough of NASA (left) and Sergey Ryzhikov (center) and Andrey Borisenko (right) of Roscosmos pose for pictures Sept. 9 in front of their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft during a pre-launch training fit check. (Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov)

Bloomberg Government reports that delays in fielding replacements for the retired space shuttle has forced NASA to send billions of dollars to Russia over the past six years.

NASA has spent $897 million with state-controlled Roscosmos since fiscal 2015 and $2.1 billion since the U.S. retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, Bloomberg Government data show….

NASA must rely on Russia to transport astronauts and equipment for at least two more years. Roscosmos will receive another $950 million in 2017 and 2018 for 12 more round trips on Soyuz ISS flights, according a September report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General.

Congressional budget cuts to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program forced the agency to extend its contract with Roscosmos to keep sending American astronauts to the ISS, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s August 2015 letter to Congress.

Putin consolidated the Russian space industry into Roscosmos in 2015, placing several close advisers in senior positions, according to Senator John McCain. Among them are Chairman Dmitry Rogozin and board member Sergei Chemezov, who are listed as Specially Designated Nationals on the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control SDN Sanctions List. Their names were added to the list following President Obama’s March 2014 emergency Executive Order 13660, issued in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Treasury denies that sanctions on Russia apply to the space industry. So while NASA isn’t in violation, it’s in an awkward position of paying billions of agency dollars directly to Russian government coffers to maintain a presence on the ISS.

The figures do not include the cost of additional Soyuz seats that NASA might end up buying for 2019 if commercial crew efforts by SpaceX and Boeing are delayed beyond 2018. NASA could purchase up to three seats through Boeing, which received them as part of a legal settlement of a lawsuit against Soyuz manufacturer RSC Energia.

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  • Lokaa Torn

    If it cost 1 billion dollars per launch of the shuttle, and 7 people went up, that’s 1.42 million dollars a seat. Russia’s saving us money even when they’re gouging us.

  • Douglas Messier

    An incomplete analysis. The shuttle could carry a substantial amount of payload to the station. That payload is now being carried by commercial crew vehicles that cost NASA money to develop and to pay for flights.

    It’s mostly the delays in commercial crew that have been driving up the cost of Russian Soyuz seats. That’s what the article is mostly focused on. Developing commercial crew and paying for the flights is costing billions of dollars as well. There’s also the opportunity cost associated with delays in that there are only six astronauts aboard the station. Commercial crew will raise that to seven, allowing one astronaut to conduct research full-time.

  • savuporo

    Cue whining that congress has underfunded everything. Everything that goes well is thanks to brave entrepreneurs and visionaries, poor contractor performance is always the fault of Congress.
    Likewise with NASA, no direction or leadership or any strategic planning capacity, unable to put together solid roadmaps and plans. But they are all just poor victims of Congress.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Senator McCain is gnashing his teeth…ooops! His dentures.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Plus the Shuttle had the capability to repair the ISS and bring replacement components up as needed. That capability is gone now.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The Shuttle cost about $3.5 billion a year to operate. That produced four flights to the ISS, 28 astronauts and the ability to deliver 160,000 to 200,000 lbs of cargo.

    Now there are only 4 astronauts flying to ISS a year and maybe 15,000 to 20,000 lbs of cargo for about a billion a year.

    Its like going from a four-door super pickup truck to a VW Bug and bragging how better off you are.

  • windbourne

    really? You think that CONgress funded this correctly for the last 6 years?

  • windbourne

    we are able to bring up all of the replacement parts as needed now. In fact, for this, it is better since we have a lot higher frequency of cargo going up.
    THe only real issue would be if something large went out.

  • windbourne

    well, that depends. The shuttle was flying 1-2x a year because we were down to 3 shuttles. In addition, the shuttle could only stay attached for a short period.
    The shuttle was replaced by multiple VW bugs, and they go up with a higher frequency. So, yeah, you lose large cargo on 1 trip, but you gain with frequent launches that allows for bringing up needed goods.

    Now, we just need to have multiple cargo systems that will work without issues. OATK solved their issue by having ULA back them up. Hopefully, SpaceX has solved their issue. If so, then they will likely launch to the ISS at a rate of 1 / 3-4 months.

  • savuporo

    Frequent launches that blow up launch pads on regular basis, check.

  • James

    Verses ships that when they went up killed everyone on board?

    Me I find it stupid to send up 200,000lbs of something when you only need to send up 25,000lbs.

    Its like shipping a 5lb hammer ina 20lb box.