Historically, Nasa has taken charge of organising and conducting its own missions -however, in recent years, more space mission contracts have been given to private companies like Boeing. A horizontal integration facility has been constructed near the perimeter of the pad where rockets will be processed for launch prior of rolling out to the top of the pad structure for liftoff.
On Friday, NASA made a formal announcement that they will award to SpaceX four missions to fly astronauts into space.
NASA called Elon Musk’s SpaceX to the plate recently by giving the company a mission order to send astronauts to space from USA soil. This marks the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Last fall, both companies were awarded contracts worth of $6.8 billion to develop and assemble Starliner CST-100 and Crew Dragon under NASA’s Launch America program.
NASA is aiming for the first commercial crew mission to blast off in late 2017. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from USA companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its life span”.
Boeing received its first astronaut mission order in May.
SpaceX’s crew transportation system includes the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket – both of which have achieved several certifications. “We’re honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country”.
In the meantime, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, Sunita Williams and Bob Behnken took a trip to SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California headquarters to train inside a Crew Dragon mockup. The Crew Dragon is expected to dock at the space station for a period of 210 days that will also serve as an emergency escape vehicle. Musk’s company has said it expects to resume launches next month, about six months after its unmanned rocket carrying cargo to the space station disintegrated after liftoff from Florida’s Cape Canaveral.
The deal is part of NASA’s effort to transition a few of its low-Earth orbit flights to less expensive commercial operators.
According to Martin’s audit, the agency “continues to improve its process for identifying and managing health and human performance risks associated with space flight”, but that “NASA’s management of crew health risks could benefit from increased efforts to integrate expertise from all related disciplines”.