NASA has now gone a long step to ensure the regular flights of crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) – launching from the United States; and the Boeing Space Exploration in Houston has been granted its second post-certification approval to do this for now - according to a NASA blog post.
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"Once certified by NASA, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon each will be capable of two crew launches to the station per year," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "Placing orders for those missions now really sets us up for a sustainable future aboard the International Space Station."
Under its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts, this might be the third out of four orders that NASA will be issuing to Boeing. Boeing was awarded its first order in May and SpaceX got its first order in November, and both have commenced to plan and build the spacecraft to make the first mission to the ISS.
NASA issued Boeing with its second order because it has fulfilled the conditions necessary for this, which entails meeting some developmental milestones and successfully completing internal designs which must be approved by NASA for the Starliner spacecraft, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and any other necessary ground systems.
Boeing is completing its Cargo Processing and Commercial Crew Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to ensure the smooth test of its Starliner aircraft at the right moment, and its crew access tower at nearly Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is also in progress.
“As our company begins its second century, our Starliner program continues Boeing’s tradition of space industry innovation with commercial service to the space station,” said John Mulholland, vice president and manager of Boeing’s commercial crew program. “We value NASA’s confidence in the Starliner system to keep their crews safe.”
Commercial crew missions to the ISS will make it possible for American astronauts and scientists to carry out scientific experiments outside of Earth in space, and for each flight, about four crew members and 220 pounds of pressurized cargo will be able to make the mission. And then, the spacecraft will remain at the ISS after landing there for up to 210 days so that it can be utilized as an emergency lifeboat if the need ever arises.
“With the commercial crew vehicles from Boeing and SpaceX, we will soon add a seventh crew member to International Space Station missions, which will significantly increase the amount of crew time to conduct research,” said Kirk Shireman, manager for the International Space Station Program. “This will enable NASA and our partners to ramp up the important research being done every day for the benefit of all humanity.”
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NASA’s Commercial Crew Program makes it possible for companies awarded orders to start preparations manufacturing the spacecraft and assembling launch vehicle 2-3 years before the actual mission dates; and all commercial transportation system designs must comply with NASA’s guidelines and requirements before a final approval is given for launch after due reviews. This will ensure the safety of crew members and the overall success of the missions.