SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut capsule production is ending. Currently, the company has four Crew Dragon capsules — Endurance, Resilience, Endeavour and Freedom. The last one, Freedom, was recently given its name a week ago, and it is set to take flight in April at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, located in Florida. Furthermore, NASA Astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who will command the upcoming Crew Dragon flight, celebrated the name reveal on Twitter.
SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon as a part of the Commercial Crew Program set up by NASA. Meanwhile, the government space agency also picked Boeing to build its spacecraft under the same program. SpaceX received $3.5 billion to develop and maintain the Crew Dragon spacecraft for six flights to the International Space Station. However, the space agency increased the number of flights to compensate for the delays from Boeing’s Starliner capsule. Each Crew Dragon flight costs $225 million, and SpaceX has successfully transported four crews of astronauts to the ISS, but the space agency wishes to bring this cost further down.
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SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told Reuters, “We are finishing our final (capsule), but we still are manufacturing components, because we’ll be refurbishing.” One of the reasons behind the Crew Dragon production halt is to preserve efficiency. Maintaining a fleet of different spacecraft takes up resources and can deter SpaceX from quickly responding to unexpected problems without affecting a jam-packed flight schedule. The persistence of such problems can also potentially risk the safety of astronauts. In addition, Elon Musk’s space transportation company will likely turn its focus to its next-gen super-heavy spaceship dubbed the ‘Starship.’
Next Phase For SpaceX Dragon
After every flight, the Crew Dragon spacecraft needs to undergo scheduled maintenance at SpaceX’s facility, located in Florida, to remain in perfect working condition. Furthermore, according to Former NASA astronaut and Former SpaceX executive Garrett Reisman, “lifetime cycle issues” arise in a spacecraft after multiple flights. Such issues require urgent fixing, and the SpaceX crew is adept at handling them as well. Additionally, a small fleet helps the SpaceX staff focus on its upkeep more efficiently, and as per Shotwell, the Crew Dragon production can restart if needed.
The Crew Dragon capsule is transported by the Falcon 9 rocket to the International space station. However, according to Reisman, if the upcoming Starship aircraft meets its design objectives, it will take over duties handled by Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon Aircraft. Furthermore, the flight launches conducted using Starship will be relatively more economical. It could also be one of the significant reasons why SpaceX wants to develop the new spacecraft as quickly and efficiently as possible.