SpaceX has received its second task order from NASA to transport astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the company's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract worth approximately $2.6 billion.
The task order was awarded after the company completed internal design evaluation and interim developmental milestones for its Crew Dragon space vehicle, Falcon 9 rocket and related ground systems, NASA said Saturday.
Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said the firm expects to send astronauts to the ISS in 2017.
The company has begun construction work on four Crew Dragon space vehicles at its Hawthorne, California-based facility for use in qualification and flight tests in 2017 and has started to perform updates to a launch pad at NASA's Florida-based Kennedy Space Center in preparation for future ISS missions.
SpaceX was awarded its initial crew mission task order in November, while Boeing secured its first task order in May 2015 followed by a second task order in December under the firm's $4.2 billion CCtCap contract.
SpaceX and Boeing could carry out up to six crewed flight missions to the ISS under the contracts NASA originally awarded in September 2014.
“With the commercial crew vehicles from Boeing and SpaceX, we will soon add a seventh crew member to space station missions, which will significantly increase the amount of crew time to conduct research,“ said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist at NASA.
The space agency said a standard commercial ISS flight mission would transport four crew members and approximately 220 pounds of cargo to the state station as well as allow the spacecraft to stay at the ISS for up to 210 days to serve as an “emergency lifeboat.“