Russian space agency, Roscosmos announced possibly its last Soyuz flight with a US astronaut on Friday, a day ahead of a successful SpaceX launch which meant future NASA manned missions will be performed from US soil.
“The main composition (crew) include Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins for the Soyuz flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in October of this year,” a statement from Roscosmos said Friday.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Saturday from Florida carrying two NASA astronauts enabling the space agency to conduct manned spaceflights from the USA rather than paying for seats aboard Russian spacecraft for the first time since 2011.
In future NASA will buy seats on the Crew Dragon space module that flies on the Falcon 9 rocket. Elon Musk owned SpaceX retains ownership and operational control of its spacecraft and will be able to sell a ticket to orbit to anyone able to pay for it - subject to certain US government controls.
“We want to send all kinds of people to space,” says Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX. “Everything we’re doing is to open that new chapter in the space age.”
Saturday’s flight, called Demo-2 is the second and final test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft before the vehicle is certified for regular launches with passengers. If the demonstration goes well- the astronauts- Douglas Hurley and Robert Benken- reach the space station, perform their missions and return- SpaceX could launch its first operational mission to transport astronauts to the ISS, called Crew-1, later this year.
The Crew-1 is designed to ferry as many as seven people between Florida’s Atlantic coast and low-Earth orbit.
Russian Challenge to SpaceX
Roscosmos has already announced a 30% discount on carrying humans to space from its existing price of about $90 million per seat (unconfirmed reports of what it charges NASA astronauts) fearing competition from SpaceX. It is also open to the possibility of buying a ticket to the ISS on a SpaceX launch if the situation so demands, according to the Press Service of Roscosmos.
Russia is offering the freed up space to other nations to carry their astronauts to the ISS. After the price cut the new cost per seat is estimated at between $40 million to $70 million, according to sources speaking to the Russian media.
Indian astronauts for the country’s first manned space mission are being trained at the Roscomos facility in Russia.