With SpaceX, Americans find a taxi to space



A day late will not change anything, after a wait of nearly ten years. Initially scheduled for the night of Saturday 14 to Sunday 15 November, the launch of the Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was postponed to the following night, that of Sunday to Monday, due to bad weather . This departure constitutes the first “operational” flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, after a test with two American astronauts last May.

Emancipating oneself from the Russian Soyuz

For the United States and the space industry in general, flight is crucial. This is the first time since the stopping of the space shuttle in 2011 that Washington has relaunched a “taxi” service to the ISS. Until now, only Russian Soyuz still provided the link. Americans and Europeans buy seats on board the rustic and very reliable machine, departing from Kazakhstan.

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But, aware of their monopoly, the Russian authorities adjust seat prices according to geopolitical conflicts, and often to the detriment of the Americans. The latter therefore preferred to regain their spatial independence, even if American astronauts will continue to borrow Soyuz for some time.

$ 55 million the seat

Above all, this new taxi is not a product of NASA, the American space agency, but of the private company SpaceX, headed by Elon Musk. The rocket, like the manned capsule, depends on the “Commercial Crew” program, which aims to encourage the involvement of the private sector in space and finally seems to be successful after years of delay. The funds of American taxpayers still largely irrigated the project: SpaceX has received more than three billion dollars from NASA since 2010.

A 2019 audit by the US space agency estimated the price per seat at $ 55 million (46.5 million euros) with SpaceX’s Crew capsule. For comparison, the price of a Soyuz ticket averaged $ 55.4 million over the period 2006-2020, but with large disparities between the 2000s and recent years, when the seat cost almost $ 80. millions of dollars.

Seats, the Crew module has four, one more than the Russian ships. Three Americans and a Japanese are in the futuristic white designed shuttle which takes off Sunday evening November 15. Frenchman Thomas Pesquet is scheduled for the next flight around March 2021.

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With four seats, the new American taxi will lead to overcrowding 400 kilometers above our heads: the ISS has only six “beds”. The commander of the mission, the American Michael Hopkins, has therefore already devoted himself to sleeping aboard the capsule, which will be moored at the station.

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