Space shuttle manufacturer SpaceX is suspending its Crew Dragon capsule production in anticipation of broadening more development efforts on its forthcoming Starship rocket. Existing Crew Dragon capsules will remain at a total of four for SpaceX, with the last and final iteration still in development.
SpaceX will refrain from building full human spaceflight capsules, but will maintain production of various parts and components for still existing models. At the forefront of its manufacturing restructuring is the Mars and moon-bound Starship rocket, which has remained at the heart of SpaceX’s main mission.
Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, told Reuters on Monday, Mar. 28th, of the upcoming pivot. While plans are based solely on enhancing its support of the Starship production, Shotwell highlighted that “fleet management is key,” and that more capsules could be brought into development later on if needed. She says:
“We are finishing our final (capsule), but we still are manufacturing components, because we’ll be refurbishing.”
Crew Dragons have long been the pinnacle of reusable spaceflight capabilities since 2020. Five missions in total have proven the capsules’ value, most expressed in NASA’s own utilization of them for transporting astronauts to the International Space Station. In February, NASA ordered an additional six Crew Dragon missions on top of the previous three, amounting to a total value of $3.5 billion for SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract.
NASA has ordered six additional @space_station resupply missions from SpaceX! Dragon will continue to deliver critical cargo and supplies to and from the orbiting lab through 2026 → https://t.co/HRhhDapsD9 pic.twitter.com/604UTJBynW
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 25, 2022
The estimated cost of a flight under the NASA contact amounts to about $255 million. SpaceX even took on a three day private flight around Earth’s orbit that featured a total of four passengers, main among them being billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, on the Inspiration4. Due to several issues on Boeing’s Starliner, the company lost out on the aforementioned six missions that NASA ordered in February.
Axiom Space likewise has a total of four private missions planned for Crew Dragon, the first of which is scheduled in April via the Ax-1 mission. This private astronaut mission will deliver four entrepreneurs to the ISS to undergo several scientific research parameters under Axiom’s guise.
SpaceX head Elon Musk relayed in a Mar. 21st Tweet that the company is eyeing May as the potential date for Starship orbital flight tests. The company has maintained an avid standing on the technological innovation and reusability factor in its manufacturing, with Starship being at the forefront of Musk’s efforts in colonizing Mars. First, however, it must contend with still-ongoing regulatory approvals under the Federal Aviation Administration before any launch or tests can be made.
Starship will also be marked as a NASA cohort under the Artemis program, wherein it will deliver astronauts to the moon. The Artemis III mission won’t see a full launch until at least 2025, but marks SpaceX as a valuable companion in the race for the stars.
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Written by Ryan Epps
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