NASA today signed an agreement with Russia to extend the current arrangement for U.S. crew flights aboard Soyuz into 2017. The full press release, included below, is noteworthy in that it calls for crew return, as well as rescue capability, but not necessarily crew transport to the station, through Jun 2017. This represents perhaps the last hopeful gesture that Congress will fully fund the Commercial Crew program at the level requested in the Administration’s FY-2014 budget request, thereby opening the door for American crew transfer to ISS, leaving only the return of crew already in place. To add emphasis to the point, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden underscored the importance of full funding in a blog, also posted today.
Based on Senate appropriation subcommittee proceedings last week however, if Alabama Senator Richard Shelby opened by observing that he “doesn’t believe in the fiction of privately funded commercial launch vehicles” doesn’t get his way, which means full funding for SLS and the overweight MPCV/Orion capsule, cracked hull and all, then General Bolden will likely be signing a new agreement with Russia fairly soon, one which officially abdicates NASA’s crew access to Low Earth Orbit until 2018, or perhaps never.
NASA Press Release:
CONTRACT RELEASE : C13-027
NASA Extends Crew Flight Contract with Russian Space Agency
WASHINGTON — NASA has signed a $424 million modification to its contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) for full crew transportation services to the International Space Station in 2016 with return and rescue services extending through June 2017.
NASA is facilitating development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the space station and low-Earth orbit beginning in 2017. This modification to the Roscosmos contract will ensure continued U.S. presence aboard the space station as NASA prepares for commercial crew providers to begin those transportation operations.
NASA is committed to launching U.S. astronauts aboard domestic spacecraft as soon as possible. Full funding of the administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request is critical to making these domestic capabilities possible by 2017.
This firm-fixed price modification covers comprehensive Soyuz support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and rescue of six space station crew members on long-duration missions. It also includes additional launch site support, which was provided previously under a separate contract. The modification will allow for a lead time of about three years Roscosmos needs to build additional Soyuz vehicles. These services will provide transportation to and from the International Space Station for U.S., and Canadian, European or Japanese astronauts.
Comments about the contract from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden are available on the agency’s administrator blog page at: