After ordering a commercial crew launch from SpaceX in November, NASA ordered an additional launch last week from Boeing Space Exploration in Houston, marking the company’s second order from the space agency.
The launch order is the third of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts.
“Once certified by NASA, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon each will be capable of two crew launches to the station per year,” said Kathy Lueders, the Commercial Crew Program manager. “Placing orders for those missions now really sets us up for the sustainable future aboard the International Space Station (ISS).”
According to NASA, the award of Boeing’s second contract was due to the company’s successful completion of “interim developmental milestones and internal design reviews” for its spacecraft, United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and ground system.
NASA ordered the first Boeing mission in May.
Currently, Boeing personnel are overseeing the buildup of the Starliner’s structural test article in a facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, among performing other tasks necessary for launch.
“As our company begins its second century, our Starliner program continues Boeing’s tradition of space industry innovation with commercial service to the space station,” said John Mulholland, vice president and manager of Boeing’s commercial crew program. “We value NASA’s confidence in the Starliner system to keep their crews safe.”
The typical standard crew mission will carry up to four crewmembers and about 220 lbs of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft, once docked at the ISS, will remain at the station for up to 210 days, open as an emergency lifeboat.
NASA has not determined whether SpaceX or Boeing will launch first.
Orders and CCtCap contracts are done about two or three years prior to the expected launch date. Final mission approval is contingent on a final certification process.
The announcement comes around the same time NASA was granted an additional $1.3 billion in funding for the 2016 fiscal year. The move was hailed by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which said the U.S. would achieve its own access to the ISS by 2017.