Four people are set to fly to the station on a Crew Dragon vehicle that SpaceX is scheduled to launch at 12 p.m. ET Wednesday on one of its reusable Falcon 9 boosters, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The spacecraft is expected to reach the facility at roughly 5 p.m. on Thursday.
The mission would mark the sixth time SpaceX has flown astronauts to the station for the space agency since 2020, and comes after NASA has moved to deepen its relationship with the
-led company. In separate deals this year, NASA awarded Space Exploration Technologies Corp., as SpaceX is formally called, a total of eight additional crewed flights to the research facility, according to agency statements.
Those additional missions are expected to occur over the next few years until 2030, NASA has said. Together, they increased the total value of the company’s contract with the agency for crew flights to the research facility from $2.7 billion to more than $4.9 billion.
Benji Reed, senior director for human spaceflight programs at SpaceX, said the company benefits from knowing it has those flights, along with others, to work toward. Having “an ongoing manifest of missions is great because folks get to plan and repeat and practice that effort,” Mr. Reed said during a recent briefing organized by NASA.
Right now, SpaceX is the only space-transport provider NASA has certified to handle human missions, though
has been aiming to gain that status for its Starliner spacecraft after working through technical challenges and completing an uncrewed test flight to the station in May.
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The flight Wednesday will send four people to the space station: Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada from the U.S. space agency; Koichi Wakata from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; and Anna Kikina, from the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
The quartet is expected to stay on board the station for about 150 days, conducting science experiments and research, officials have said. A group of astronauts who traveled to the orbiting lab with SpaceX back in April will overlap with the new crew for several days before returning to Earth in a Crew Dragon that is currently docked to the facility.
Ms. Kikina, the Russian cosmonaut, is flying with SpaceX as part of a crew swap between NASA and Roscosmos. As part of that agreement, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio recently arrived at the space station on a Russian spacecraft, NASA has said.
Roscosmos has threatened to pull out of the space station, with the agency’s new leader saying over the summer it would leave at an unspecified time after 2024. NASA officials, who want to keep the station operating through 2030, have said they have never received official notification that Russia would exit the facility.
The latest SpaceX mission for NASA comes during a busy stretch for the company, and as Mr. Musk juggles multiple responsibilities elsewhere. The entrepreneur, who also serves as chief executive at
and has founded startups, recently offered to complete his purchase of
SpaceX has established a fast rate for launches in 2022, one that Mr. Musk has said he wants to increase.
As of Tuesday afternoon, SpaceX had conducted 43 Falcon 9 flights, according to a count from Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Mr. Musk recently said in a tweet that SpaceX is aiming for up to 100 orbital missions next year, though he didn’t specify which vehicles the company would use to try to meet that objective. SpaceX also operates the Falcon Heavy rocket, though it has flown far fewer times than the Falcon 9, and has been developing Starship, a towering, two-stage vehicle designed to be fully reusable.
While commercial customers and government agencies have flown Falcon 9 missions this year, most of the company’s launches have been for Starlink, a SpaceX division that offers users internet connections through a growing fleet of satellites.
“We’ve been flying a lot of missions, and a lot of Starlink missions. I think that really helps the crew program—we learn a lot in those missions and we can carry that learning” into crewed flights, said William Gerstenmaier, vice president for build and flight reliability at SpaceX, during a recent briefing.
Write to Micah Maidenberg at [email protected]
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