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NASA buys three more manned Dragon flights from SpaceX

Capitalism in space: NASA today officially announced that it has extended its contract with SpaceX for manned Dragon flights by three, paying the company an additional $900 million.

Prior to the modification, SpaceX was contracted to fly three more missions to the ISS: Crew-4 and Crew-5 in 2022 and Crew-6 in 2023. With the extension, which is “fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity,” per NASA’s statement. SpaceX’s period of performance now runs through March 31, 2028 — a nice regular paycheck for the growing launch and space operations company.

This contract extension raises what NASA is paying SpaceX for manned launch services from $2.6 billion to $3.49 billion.

While it is likely NASA would have brought more Dragon flights, it is also likely that some of these flights would have instead been bought from Boeing, if its much delayed Starliner manned capsule had been available. It is not, so SpaceX gets the business.

Boeing’s next attempt to complete Starliner’s first unmanned demo mission to ISS is now scheduled for May.

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From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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6 comments

  • geoffc

    3.49 – 2.6 billion for 3 flights, works out to: 297 million a flight.
    4 seats is about 74 million a seat.

    That seems quite expensive.

    I expect SpaceX is charging what the market will bare. And since Boeing is no where near delivering, it is a sellers market. So good on them…. I expect the next contract will be cheaper once Boeing is in, or unless Boeing just simply charges more… :)

  • David K

    If you have a literal monopoly it is not about your costs but about how much money your customers have to spend. With Russia basically out due to sanctions, Boeing out due to incompetence, and Sierra Nevada out due to congressional disapproval, it is SpaceX or nothing at all.

    On a side note, I do think that if nobody else competes, eventually the starship program will compete with the dragon program and lower prices, even though the competition is all internal.

  • George C

    Estimating a ticket price, at 300mb (megabucks) per launch with the max 7 passengers you get 43mb per ticket. Now an ISS mission includes exclusive capsule time docked to the station so shorter tourist trips can be cheaper.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Here is hoping Boeing finds the motivation to get their act together.

    And hoping that Sierra Nevada has the good fortune to get everything right the first time.

    I think hoping the Blue Origin can get New Glenn operational might be asking for too much at this point.. so I will limit it to a desire to see them succeed with the BE-4.

  • Edward

    geoffc,
    Judging from the week-long voyages of the private spaceflights on Dragon, costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million to $220 million, so as George C noted, we can estimate that the additional six-month use of the Dragon spacecraft are part of the extra $77 million to $97 million. The payloads in the Dragon trunk likely cover most or all of the rest of that cost. A Dragon launching private astronauts for a week can launch more times per year than one launching NASA astronauts to ISS for a six-month stay. NASA pays extra for SpaceX’s loss of use of the Dragon for that period of time.

    Once Starliner is operational will they charge NASA less? That is the beauty of competition.

    David K,
    Keep in mind that on their current contract with NASA Sierra Nevada (Sierra Space) will only provide cargo service. Hopefully they will have a manned version of Dream Chaser a few years later. Even more competition, even lower prices.

  • Edward

    Knowing the price of a mission to ISS gives us a little more insight into commercial space stations.

    ISS has performed about 3000 experiments in the ten years since it has become operational, so we can expect another 3000 before it is decommissioned. ISS costs somewhere north of $150 billion, giving us a value per experiment of $25 million. Since there are other valuable lessons learned about operating a space station, we can reduce that per-experiment value to around $12 million or so, and I calculate the ISS performs around 300 experiments per year.

    A mission to a commercial space station costs the same $300 million for the launch and vehicle. The break even takes a month-long mission. What would be the rental rate for a commercial space station? $10 million per month would make the station owner about a billion dollars over ten years. The experiments performed on a six-month mission would be worth $1.8 billion. It looks to me as though space stations could be a very lucrative business, with the various businesses, countries, universities, and individuals getting data for a price that is less than a quarter of their value. As with the ISS, it could be difficult for the space station operators to meet the demand.

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