NASA is going to have to shell out more cash for less cargo room in future resupply missions to the International Space Station. The information comes courtesy of a NASA audit (PDF) which revealed that SpaceX is going to be hiking up the prices for its services by a considerable margin. Future SpaceX resupply missions are going to cost around 50% more than the prices NASA has been paying for launches from 2012 through 2020, but that’s not the only reason NASA’s bill is getting higher.
The agency has been using two companies to provide resupply missions in recent years — both SpaceX and Orbital ATK — with SpaceX charging around $152 million per mission and Orbital ATK charging a steeper $262 million. SpaceX is raising its prices due to a few different factors, including a redesigned cargo capsule and new capabilities that will allow NASA to retrieve samples from the ISS faster than before, but Orbital ATK will be offering a 15 percent discount on its services, which will bring the two companies within $5 million of each other on a price-per-launch basis.
However, for the second phase of NASA’s commercial resupply program beginning in 2020 and extending through 2024, NASA will be bringing a third company into the fold. Sierra Nevada and its Dream Chaster spacecraft will begin flying resupply missions by 2020, offering NASA more room for pressurized cargo than either other company can provide.
Overall, the prices for cargo shuttling will rise by around $8,600 per kg of cargo. Despite that, NASA is feeling pretty great about the deals it has in place with private space companies, and the audit notes that the agency is still getting a heck of a deal compared to the costs associated with running its own resupply missions.
“NASA officials reviewed past launch pricing and found the cost for a basic Atlas V configuration decreased by roughly $20 million per launch after the Falcon 9 became eligible in 2013 to compete for launch services contracts through the agency’s Launch Services Program,” according to the report.
If you had any doubts about NASA continuing to lean on the commercial spaceflight industry to get its work done, this should be more than enough to put that to rest. As more and more companies begin emerge, it will be interesting to see if an even larger bidding war erupts.