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US pays Russia $3.9 billion for ferrying astronauts to ISS

NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion annually to operate the ISS, including payments for transportation of crew and cargo

TASS, November 15. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has purchased $3.9-billion worth of seats from Russia to transport its astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) since July 2011, says NASA Inspector General Paul Martin’s report published on NASA official website on Thursday.

"Over the past two decades, 85 flights have transported 239 astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS or Station) on either a NASA Space Shuttle or a Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities (Roscosmos) Soyuz vehicle. However, since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, the Soyuz has served as the sole means of transporting astronauts to and from the ISS. As of July 2019, NASA had purchased 70 Soyuz seats worth $3.9 billion to ferry 70 U.S. and partner astronauts to and from the Station," the report reads.

Martin noted that "NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion annually to operate the ISS, including payments for transportation of crew and cargo." "Overall, NASA paid an average cost per seat of $55.4 million for the 70 completed and planned missions from 2006 through 2020 with prices ranging from approximately $21.3 million to $86 million for each round trip," the inspector general stressed.

He also underlined that "after 2017 when the CCP (Commercial Crew Program - TASS) contractors were initially scheduled to begin crewed missions, NASA has used or contracted for 12 additional Soyuz seats at a cost of approximately $1 billion, or an average of $79.7 million per seat."


Seeking Russia’s help again?


According to Martin, due to numerous occasions of Boeing and SpaceX failing to meet deadlines on developing the CCP "final vehicle certification for both contractors will likely be delayed at least until summer 2020 based on the number of ISS and CCP certification requirements that remain to be verified and validated," he underlined, adding that "while awaiting the start of commercial crew flights, NASA will likely experience a reduction in the number of USOS crew aboard the ISS from three to one beginning in spring 2020 given schedule delays in the development of Boeing and SpaceX space flight systems coupled with a reduction in the frequency of Soyuz flights."

In light of this, Martin recommends "purchasing additional Soyuz seats and extending the missions of USOS (United States On-Orbit Segment - TASS) crewmembers" to address the potential crew reduction.

He advises NASA management to make effort in order to persuade the US Congress to pay Russia. "In order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of CCP, <…> [the recommendation is to] initiate internal processes and coordinate with congressional and other stakeholders to obtain an extension of the legal waiver to pay Russia for Soyuz seats." "We provided a draft of this report to NASA management who concurred with all of our recommendations," Martin notes.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine delivered a speech at a press conference as part of the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington on October 21, announcing that NASA does not want to allow a situation when US astronauts are not staffing the ISS.