Nasa has extended its contract with Russia to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Russia’s Soyuz space capsules due to delays in America’s commercial space taxi projects.
Nasa informed the US Congress that it will continue purchasing seats on Soyuz until at least 2017 for an estimated $80m per seat. The overall cost to the American tax payer of the continued arrangement is expected to stand at about $490m.
Nasa has been dependent on Russia, currently the only nation with the capability to ferry human crew to the International Space Station, since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.
The decision to extend the contract goes somewhat against the current attitude of the US, which is trying to limit its economic involvement with Russia as part of the international sanctions prompted by the situation in Ukraine.
“In 2010, I presented to Congress a plan to partner with American industry to return launches to the United States by 2015 if provided the requested level of funding,” Bolden wrote in the letter.
“Unfortunately, for five years now, the Congress, while incrementally increasing annual funding, has not adequately funded the Commercial Crew Program to return human spaceflight launches to American soil this year, as planned.”
Boeing and SpaceX are currently developing new vehicles capable of sustaining a human crew on a trip to the ISS as part of Nasa’s Commercial Crew Program.
Nasa had hoped to begin flights by 2017, but House and Senate budget proposals for the fiscal year beginning on 1 October would cut funding for the Commercial Crew Program, likely resulting in additional delays and higher costs.
“Reductions from the FY 2016 request for Commercial Crew proposed in the House and Senate FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bills would result in Nasa’s inability to fund several planned CCtCap milestones in FY 2016 and would likely result in funds running out for both contractors during the spring/summer of FY 2016,” Bolden stated.
“If this occurs, the existing fixed-price CCtCap contracts may need to be renegotiated, likely resulting in further schedule slippage and increased cost.”
Bolden's letter was sent to the heads of congressional committees that oversee Nasa, the agency said.