Two years after SpaceX flew its first astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in the Crew Dragon capsule, the company has announced it is ending production of the spacecraft.
Speaking to Reuters this week, Space X president Gwynne Shotwell said there are currently no plans to add more Crew Dragons to the current fleet of four capsules. However, the company will continue to manufacture components for the existing Crew Dragon spacecraft as they will continue to be used for future space missions.
A SpaceX Crew Dragon approaches the International Space Station in April 2021, a day after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA
The cessation of production of the Crew Dragon is reportedly due in part to the company’s desire to shift resources to its next-generation Starship launch vehicle — comprising the Super Heavy booster and the Starship spacecraft — which is expected to launch on lunar missions. and even travel to Mars in the coming years.
As Reuters points out, the fact that SpaceX started life with the core goal of building multi-use space hardware meant that the company would always stop producing the Crew Dragon at some point. After the flights, Crew Dragons are maintained and refurbished at a special SpaceX facility at the Kennedy Space Center.
The four-seat Crew Dragon first flew to the space station in an unmanned test flight in 2019. A year later, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken took the first manned flight to the ISS, carried into space by SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9- rocket ship. Behnken gave a video tour of the Crew Dragon en route to the station.
The flight was historic for being the first commercially built spacecraft to put astronauts into orbit, as well as for returning manned missions to the US after an absence of nearly a decade following the conclusion of the space shuttle program.
To date, Crew Dragon capsules have made four manned trips to and from the ISS, and one orbital trip in what was the first space mission made up entirely of non-professional astronauts.
The next Crew Dragon mission is scheduled for April 6 and will bring three space tourists and a former NASA astronaut to the ISS for a stay of just over a week. The highly anticipated mission will be NASA and SpaceX’s first private astronaut trip to the orbiting outpost, with each of the three private citizens reportedly paid about $55 million for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. .