The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has updated its commercial crew contract with Boeing to extend the duration of the company’s first ever crewed flight to the International Space Station.
As part of the space agency’s updated contract with Boeing, the Starliner spacecraft will now take three, instead of two, crew members to the International Space Station. Notably, last year Boeing proposed NASA to consider adding a third crew member on its Crew Flight Test to the ISS.
Furthermore, the spacecraft’s duration in space has also been increased from two weeks to a full six months, the length of a typical ISS expedition.
“The change includes the ability to extend Boeing’s CFT from roughly two weeks to up to six months as well as the training and mission support for a third crew member. Cargo capabilities for the uncrewed and crewed flight tests were also identified,” NASA said.
It is expected that the potential changes could help the U.S. space agency to maintain its presence on the International Space Station through 2019 and beyond. Until now, NASA has been depending on Russian Soyuz flights to carry astronauts to the ISS. The space agency’s contract with Soyuz will reportedly end in 2019.
William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, said that the updated contract provides the space agency with additional schedule margin if required. He added that NASA appreciates Boeing’s willingness to evolve its flight to ensure that the space agency has continued access to space for their astronauts.
Back in 2014, NASA signed a $4.2 billion contract with Boeing and a $2.6 billion contract with SpaceX for two test flights and six operational missions. As part of the contract, both Boeing and SpaceX will be launching unmanned test missions to the space station this year prior to manned test flights.