Tuesday, April 19, 2011

NASA awards $269 million for commercial crew program

Hopeful commercial spacecraft will be ready to carry humans into orbit by the middle of this decade.

NASA awarded $269.3 million Monday to four companies designing and testing components for private space transportation vehicles.

Boeing Co. will receive $92.3 million from the development announcement, the largest of the four agreements unveiled by NASA.

Sierra Nevada Corp. captured $80 million, SpaceX was awarded $75 million and Blue Origin will get $22 million, according to NASA.

The funds were made available by the federal budget passed by Congress and signed into law last week.

Each company signed Space Act Agreements for NASA to provide government funding when the firms achieve major milestones such as design reviews and hardware tests. The agreements run through approximately May 2012.

The announcements begin the second round of NASA's Commercial Crew Development, or CCDev, program designed to pay seed money to U.S. companies developing rockets and spacecraft for human passengers.

"Given enough time and money, I'm confident that multiple U.S. companies can develop safe, reliable and cost-effective commercial crew transportation systems," said Phil McAlister, NASA's acting director of commercial spaceflight development.

The CCDev 2 funding will go toward maturing the designs of each company's vehicle and testing key systems on the ground, according to Ed Mango, manager of NASA's commercial crew program.

"We are targeting the middle part of this decade to hopefully have services available for purchase," McAlister said. "That is very much dependent on funding and technical progress on the partners."

NASA is working with private industry to provide crew transportation services to the International Space Station and other destinations in low Earth orbit while the government focuses on deep space exploration. Once the space shuttle is retired this summer, NASA astronauts will ride Russian Soyuz vehicles into orbit until a U.S. alternative is available.

"We're committed to safely transporting U.S. astronauts on American-made spacecraft and ending the outsourcing of this work to foreign governments," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "These agreements are significant milestones in NASA's plans to take advantage of American ingenuity to get to low Earth orbit, so we can concentrate our resources on deep space exploration."

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