That brings to six each the number of manned missions awarded the companies.
It might seem odd to be announcing the latest mission awards with SpaceX still grounded after a launch-pad explosion and both companies yet to test their manned spaceships. But all parties require a long lead time on any mission to the International Space Station, and NASA is anxious to transition away from a reliance of Russian astronaut shuttles beginning in 2018.
Financial terms of the latest mission awards, announced Jan. 3, haven’t yet been set.
“Awarding these missions now will provide greater stability for the future space station crew rotation schedule, as well as reduce schedule and financial uncertainty for our providers,” said Phil McAlister, director of NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Development Division. “The ability to turn on missions as needed to meet the needs of the space station program is an important aspect of the Commercial Crew Program.”
Boeing is scheduled to test its CST-100 Starliner in June 2018, while SpaceX hopes to demo a manned version of its Crew Dragon spacecraft in November 2017.
Meantime, SpaceX is scrambling to get its rockets flying again following a probe into a Sept. 1 explosion into a launch-pad explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
SpaceX said Jan. 2 its investigation into the September launch explosion linked the incident to an accumulation of super-chilled liquid oxygen, forcing certain changes to allow warmer temperature helium to be loaded. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company awaits clearance by the Federal Aviation Administration for a return to flight.
Once NASA’s commercial crew shuttles begin, the companies’ new spacecraft will transport up to four astronauts per mission, along with about 220 pounds of space station cargo.