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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

SpaceX bags $1.4 billion deal to launch five Nasa missions to space

Elon Musk-led SpaceX has emerged as a reliable option for Nasa to launch humans into space, as it bags a $1.4 billion contract to send five more astronaut missions beyond Earth. The private aerospace giant will launch 20 astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the new deal.

The missions are aimed at ensuring a permanent American presence in the flying laboratory as it enters its final leg of operations before it is decommissioned by the end of 2030. The deal will make Space provide its Dragon spacecraft and the workhorse Falcon-9 to launch humans to the zero-gravity lab.

Boeing’s struggles with readying its Starliner capsule have also added to SpaceX’s fortunes as the company was in direct competition with it. SpaceX will now work with Nasa and launch a total of 14 crewed missions including its current agreement.

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SpaceX and Boeing each won multibillion-dollar Nasa contracts in 2014 to develop, test, and routinely fly space capsule systems capable of sending astronauts to and from the space station, an orbital research lab that has housed international crews of astronauts for over two decades.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has emerged as the biggest contractor for Nasa. (File Pic)

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, beset by software glitches and valve malfunctions, aims to fly its first crew of astronauts in February next year, looking to pass a final test mission before Nasa can certify the spacecraft for routine astronaut flights.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s reusable Crew Dragon capsule has flown five crewed missions for Nasa since it was crew-certified in 2020 when it became the first private company to launch humans into orbit. Nasa initially awarded each company six crew missions but ordered three more from SpaceX in early 2022 amid Boeing’s technical woes.

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While the new deal is signed, SpaceX is gearing up to fly the Crew-5 mission to ISS. The Crew-5 mission is expected to launch on October 3 carrying two Nasa astronauts Mission Commander Nicole Mann and Pilot Josh Cassada, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina, who will serve as mission specialists.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch Dragon Endurance and the crew from Launch Complex 39A at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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