In a move hopefully stemming from NASA’s revitalized budget for the coming year, NASA has issued Boeing a second flight order as part of the Commercial Crew Program. Boeing is one of two private companies involved in the program, the other being SpaceX. The flight order guarantees a second launch for Boeing following the first order that was issued in May of this year, and a mission order for SpaceX made in November.
The Commercial Crew Program contracts dictate that NASA will order at least 4 flights from the two companies, made 2 or 3 years in advance of the mission’s expected date. With 3 of the 4 flights that NASA is contractually obliged to order now filled, it remains to be seen whether the 4th mission will go to SpaceX, splitting them equally, or whether another will be issued to Boeing. If the results are promising, however, the missions may continue.
The craft that Boeing will use to ferry astronauts into space is their CST-100 Starliner vehicle. While the craft was dropped from NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services second-phase competition, it still remains on track to fulfil its obligations to the Commercial Crew Program. In direct competition is SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which revolves around the recently reinstated Falcon 9 rocket, which, if proven to have fixed the flaws that resulted in a failed supply mission, could pave the way for SpaceX picking up more manned flights.
It is currently unannounced when this new mission will take place, with the previous two mission orders optimistically planned for 2017. The budget now allows for them to keep development on track. With NASA being guaranteed funds for the program going into 2016, new, all-American spacecraft could be making their trips to the ISS within two years.
The continuously underfunded space agency, NASA, finally got some good news on the financial front today. As part of their budget proposal for 2016, Congress included a considerable budget increase for NASA, in excess of what they had requested.
The total sum that would be budgeted for NASA is the sizable sum of $19.3 billion. A number in excess of the Obama administration’s promise of $18.5 billion, which is an increase of $1.27 billion from the sum provided to them in 2015. The financial windfall couldn’t come at a better time for NASA either. For starters, it provides $1.24 billion for the Commercial Crew Program alone. With NASA having recently ordered launches from both of the companies involved in the program for as soon as 2017, with a report delivered with the spending bill making it clear to NASA that the new funds should be put towards keeping the program on track, with the natural assumption being that Congress wish to reduce their dependency on Russia to access the ISS.
The Commercial Crew Program is not the only thing that NASA needs budgeting, either. NASA are planning for $2 billion to go towards the giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is intended to make manned trips into deep space or to Mars. And with many different configurations of the SLS planned, its budget requirements make sense. The SLS’ crew capsule, Orion, is also receiving a large sum of money, after flagging due to financial troubles and having its first test flight pushed back by two years.
As well as the big projects, other NASA agencies that will benefit from the budget increase are the Science division, receiving $300 million more than 2015, including $175 million to be put towards a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s icy moons. It would require specialist modules (as well as to be launched from the SLS), and the timeline is tight, with a mission to take place no later than 2022.
It seems like Congress has finally taken note of NASA’s recent budget complaints, and this seems to be the first step towards making the next decade a very interesting time for space researchers and enthusiasts alike.