WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — A new agreement to purchase flights from Boeing to the International Space Station on a Soyuz spacecraft will allow NASA to maximize time dedicated to scientific research by increasing crew size on the U.S. segment from three to four. The additional flights will take place in 2017 and 2018. The agreement includes an option to be exercised by fall 2017 for additional seats in 2019. The 2019 seats could be used to smooth transition to U.S. commercial transportation services.
Each time a cargo resupply spacecraft launches from Earth bound for the International Space Station, it carries with it dozens of experiments to complement more than 250 research investigations underway in the only U.S. National Lab in microgravity. The investigations hold promise for solutions to biomedical problems on Earth and in space, and they take priority in the packed daily schedule for astronauts aboard the space station. An additional U.S. crew member provides an approximately 50 percent increase in crew time available for research. This additional time will allow for experiments that currently could not even be attempted.
The agreement is a contract action that modifies the space station’s Vehicle Sustaining Engineering Contract, originally awarded in January 1995, and most recently extended in 2015. The modification provides crew transportation services for two U.S. crew members to and from the International Space Station (ISS) on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft – one each in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018. The modification total value including the option is $373.5 million.
NASA’s Commercial crew transportation providers Boeing and SpaceX have made significant progress toward returning crew launches to the U.S., but external review groups have recommended an option to protect for delays or problems in certification. Both Boeing and SpaceX remain obligated under their commercial crew contracts to complete development of their commercial vehicles and to perform NASA missions to the station. NASA already has ordered six missions from each company.
Boeing received the Soyuz flight opportunities and seats as part of a separate agreement with Russian company Energia, which manufactures the Soyuz spacecraft and has the legal rights to sell the seats and associated services.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to fly a fourth crew member beginning this year will allow NASA to introduce new or novel human research, commercial and technology experiments. The increased crew presence has the potential to bolster the commercial space market, prepare NASA for human deep space exploration, including to Mars, and deliver more benefits to Earth.