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NASA looks beyond SpaceX, Boeing contracts for space station commutes

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NASA looks beyond SpaceX, Boeing contracts for space station commutes
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launches the Crew-2 mission from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 20 (UPI) -- NASA posted a formal request on a government website Wednesday, seeking companies that could provide astronaut transportation vehicles to the International Space Station by 2027.

SpaceX has provided such transport services with the Crew Dragon capsule since May 2020, while Boeing also holds a contract. But Boeing is four years behind schedule in delivering on its contract, as the company struggles to fix problems with its Starliner capsule.

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"Depending on mission requirements, NASA may purchase single seats, multiple seats within one mission, or an entire mission," NASA said in a statement about the new request.

SpaceX and Boeing received multibillion-dollar contracts in 2014 to provide 12 trips to the space station, while a third provider, Sierra Nevada Corp., received funding to continue developing its proposed Dream Chaser space plane.

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Nothing in the new request would prevent Boeing or SpaceX from continuing as contractors with NASA for its Commercial Crew Program, but NASA might include new providers.

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When SpaceX delivered on its contract in 2020, the company helped NASA end a nine-year drought of astronaut launches from American soil. Before then, NASA spent years purchasing seats on Russian Soyuz capsules to reach the space station following the space shuttle's retirement in 2011.

Boeing's woes in the NASA program became when Starliner failed to reach the space station in a 2019 test flight.

The company blamed software errors for that failure. It was scheduled to launch its capsule again in August, but sticky valves inside the spacecraft delayed a new test flight. Boeing believes humidity contributed to the stuck valves, but the company said Tuesday it still was investigating the problem.

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NASA, SpaceX complete historic first mission to space station

Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Fla., on Sunday. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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