Russia is charging the United States $55.8 million a seat for six round-trip rides aboard its Soyuz capsules, currently the sole means for getting astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Under a new contract announced yesterday, NASA will pay Russia $335 million for Soyuz flights in 2013 and 2014. An existing contract in effect through 2012 costs NASA $51 million per passenger, a fee that includes training and support services.
The fee increase is relatively small, considering Russia’s monopoly on crew transportation services to the space station. China, the only other country that has put people into orbit, isn’t part of the station partnership.
The United States is retiring its three space shuttles, which had been used for crew transport, at the end of the year, due to cost and safety concerns. A replacement ship is TBD.
The Obama administration wants to turn over space taxi services to private industry. Space Exploration Technologies of California, which looks to be the front-runner, has yet to fly its Falcon 9 rocket, which NASA is helping to develop as a cargo hauler. Falcon 9′s debut flight is expected in May.
Legislators from Florida and other states with thousands of high-paying aerospace engineering and technical jobs on the chopping block are trying to win support to keep the shuttles flying. NASA, however, has no more payloads for flights after a final cargo run to the station slated for September. Agency officials also said that restarting shuttle tank production lines, which already have been shut down, would still result in a two- to three-year gap in flights, and cost millions of dollars.
Image: Soyuz coming in for docking at the International Space Station — with no competition in sight. Credit: NASA.