NASA recently inked a $424 million modification to an arrangement that the space agency has with the Roscosmos Russian Federal Space Agency. This extension will allow U.S., European, Canadian, and Japanese astronauts to travel to the International Space Station on Russian Soyuz spacecraft through June 2017—when it is hoped that commercial companies can take over this task.
Under this extension NASA continues to utilize the various services that Roscosmos has provided with its Soyuz spacecraft. This includes training, flight preparation, return, rescue, flight, and landing operations. Essentially all terms under the initial contract that NASA has with Roscosmos are maintained through this time frame. Additional launch site support will also be a part of this modification—prior to these, support services were part of a separate agreement.
The modification will allow Roscosmos a lead time of about three years, during which the company will construct more of the Soyuz spacecraft.
Meanwhile, NASA is working to empower private companies to provide access to low-Earth orbit (LEO). These include Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Boeing, and Sierra Nevada Corporation. It is hoped that one or more of these firms can begin transporting U.S. astronauts to the ISS by the time this extension expires.
“I am pleased with the progress our commercial crew providers are making. We now have an American company resupplying cargo to the ISS—launching from U.S. soil—and another company on track to join in this competition. I’m confident that our ambitious plan for U.S. crew transportation, if fully funded, will allow U.S. commercial companies to launch our astronauts in just a few short years,” said NASA’s current administrator and four-time space shuttle veteran Charles Bolden on a recent blog post.
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