Aviation News

September 17, 2014

Boeing and SpaceX Selected for NASA’s Next Human Spaceflight Program

Late Tuesday afternoon, NASA announced the selection of The Boeing Company and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). This program would end America’s dependence on Russian rockets by 2017.

When the Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on July 8, 2011 with a crew of four, it marked the last time that a human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil. Subsequent crewed missions to the ISS have relied solely on Russian spacecraft, which have come at great cost, both financially and emotionally.

“From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space.” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars.”

NASA indicated that the current price to send an American to the ISS aboard the Russian spacecraft costs approximately $70 million per mission. The two companies claim that their efficiencies will result in substantial savings. The combined value of the contracts with the two companies is $6.8 billion.

Boeing will get $4.2 billion from NASA to develop and operate their Crew Space Transportation (CST) – 100 spacecraft, which can carry a crew of up to seven, or a combination of crew and cargo. The CST-100 will ride atop of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and launch from Complex 41 at Canaveral Air Force Station.

Boeing is no stranger to human spaceflight, “Boeing has been part of every American human space flight program, and we’re honored that NASA has chosen us to continue that legacy,” said John Elbon, Boeing vice president and general manager, Space Exploration.

Under the terms of the contract, Boeing will build three CST-100’s at their Commercial Crew Processing facility at the Kennedy Space Center, which was previously known as Orbiter Processing Facility 3 (OPF-3), from the Space Shuttle program.

According to Boeing, CST-100 will undergo a pad-abort test in 2016, followed by an un-crewed flight in early 2017. The first crewed flight to the ISS is expected in the middle of 2017.

Dragon V2 On Stage

The SpaceX Crew Dragon.


SpaceX will get $2.6 billion from NASA for their Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will ride atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, and launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39-A, which served as a launch pad for the Space Shuttle, as well as the Saturn V rocket during the Apollo program.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Tuesday said: “SpaceX is deeply honored by the trust NASA has placed in us, and we welcome today’s decision and the mission it advances with gratitude and seriousness of purpose.”

NASA is currently under contract with SpaceX to operate re-supply missions to the ISS, which was the first of it’s kind in 2012 when the company began launching a series of round trip missions to the orbiting outpost.

Crew Dragon, like Boeing’s offering, will be able to transport up to seven astronauts or a mix of crew and cargo to the ISS, and return them safely to Earth. Both spacecraft strike a resemblance to earlier NASA vehicles in that they share a capsule-like form, much like the Apollo spacecraft. SpaceX anticipates that the per-astronaut launch cost using Crew Dragon will be approximately $20 million.

One noticeable difference between the two programs is the return to Earth. Both spacecraft will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in much the same way, however, while the Boeing craft will settle back to the planet under a familiar parachute canopy, as seen in this animation provided by Boeing:

The SpaceX craft can land “propulsively almost anywhere on Earth”, as seen in the animation below provided by SpaceX:

However the current plan for the initial NASA missions is to deploy parachutes “all the way down”, and use the propulsive system only for the final few seconds before landing. This method is similar to how the Russian Soyuz capsules land.

NASA has stipulated in their contracts with both companies that a NASA astronaut will be required to fly aboard each spacecraft to perform what amounts to an acceptance mission, before they will receive NASA certification. Once NASA signs off on their program, the companies will conduct at least two and as many as six crewed flights to the ISS.

Both companies will own and operate their respective spacecraft, and will be able to offer their space travel services to other customers, which could lead to cost savings for all customers.


Ken McQuillan is a contributor to NYCAviation.com and an aerial photojournalist based in Detroit, MI. Follow Ken on Twitter.

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Ken McQuillan



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  • Forrest White

    It is now clear why NASA cannot build their own spacecraft – the combined value of the contracts with the two companies is $6.8 billion – the lower budget, I don’t think it’s enough money for rocket creation.