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March 24, 2011

NASA Paying Russia $63 million a Seat for Space Crew Transport through 2016

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Last week, NASA announced it had signed a $763 million contract modification with the Russian Federal Space Agency for crew transport and related services to the International Space Station (ISS) between 2014 through June 2016. The firm-fixed price changes include "comprehensive" Soyuz support, according to the NASA release, including training, flight operations, landing and crew rescue for 12 individual space station crew members.

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Previously, NASA committed to pay nearly $56 million per seat for ISS transport. The new price is nearly $63 million per seat, an 8.5 percent annual increase which is attributed to simple inflation rather than any sort of, shall we say, gouging, since the only way to get to the station will be through Russia and its Soyuz capsule until either NASA or U.S. based commercial services get flights running.

In the release, NASA played up its efforts to get American-made commercial crew transportation in play now that the space shuttle will be retiring this year.

"The President's 2012 budget request boosts funding for our partnership with the commercial space industry and prioritizes our efforts to ensure that American astronauts and the cargo they need are transported by American companies rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "This new approach in getting our crews and cargo into orbit will create good jobs and expand opportunities for our American economy. If we are to win the future and out build our competitors, it's essential that we make this program a success."

NASA made its first round of Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) awards in 2010 to stimulate commercial services to provide manned crew delivery to the ISS and anticipates one or more companies will be able to provide services by 2015. Soyuz support is being provisioned through 2016 as a backup capability after commercial services are anticipated to start up.

Boeing (News - Alert), Sierra Nevada, Orbital and SpaceX have all presented concepts for the second round of CCDev, with NASA planning to announce awards sometime this month.   SpaceX (News - Alert) has been particularly candid about its plans to evolve its Dragon capsule – currently being demonstrated to deliver cargo to ISS – into a manned transport vehicle and founder Elon Musk has said he can deliver services at $20 million a seat.

Under the modified Russian contract, NASA can launch up to six people in 2014, and six more in 2015 – along with their return to earth, after a six month stay aboard the station. The Soyuz will also provide limited cargo transport and trash return, with each seat getting an allotment of about 110 pounds up to the station, 37 pounds of cargo returned to Earth and trash disposal of 66 pounds. 

Yes, even the high-tech ISS has to pay for trash disposal.


Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee