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Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada to Carry NASA’s Commercial Crew Initiative Forward


NASA will back Boeing, SpaceX andSierra Nevada with $1.1 billion during a third round of commercial crew space transportation development, top space agency officials announced on Friday.

Started in 2008, the NASA-private sector partnership is intended to establish a commercially competitive U. S. human space launch capability by 2017, though the three companies hope to accelerate the date by as much as two years.

NASA has relied on three passenger Russian Soyuz capsules for crew missions to the International Space Station since the U S. space shuttle fleet was retired in mid-2011.

Boeing’s CST-100, the SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser would carry up to seven passengers to and from the six-person space station. As the services matured, the commercial activities would expand to tourism and transportation to and from private space stations.

Boeing's CST-100 is about to dock with the space station in this Boeing illustration

The commercial push will permit NASA to turn its human exploration focus to the Space Launch System and the Orion/Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, a large rocket and capsule suited for missions of human deep space exploration. President Obama has directed NASA to start with a human mission to a near Earth asteroid by 2025 and exploration of the Martian environs by the mid-2030s.

“Today, we are announcing another critical step toward launching our astronauts fromU.S.soil on space systems built by American companies,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability management office is located. . “We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country.”

The SpaceX Dragon in Earth orbit. Credit/SpaceX illustration

Subject to Congressional approval, $460 million would flow to Boeing Co., of Houston; $440 million to SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif.; and $212.5 million to Sierra Nevada, of Louisville, Colo., for development activities through May 2014, or the critical design review phase. The work will be guided by NASA Space Act Agreements.

Flight testing would follow.

Boeing and Sierra Nevada are looking to a human rated United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 to launch their spacecraft into orbit.  SpaceX’s Dragon would launch on the company’s Falcon 9. The SpaceX combination, with a cargo version of the Dragon, carried out the first U. S. commercial re-supply mission to the six-person International Space Station in May.

Sierra Nevada's "lifting body" would use a runway for its return to Earth. Image Credit/Sierra Nevada

“We look forward to providing a complete end-to-end transportation service to support NASA crew transportation to and from the International Space Station (ISS), and fostering a growing market for commercial transportation to other low Earth orbit destinations,” said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing Commercial Programs

“This is a decisive milestone in human spaceflight and sets an exciting course for the next phase of American space exploration,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk. “SpaceX, along with our partners at NASA, will continue to push the boundaries of space technology to develop the safest, most advanced crew vehicle ever flown.”

“This award will allow our program to continue to make great strides in the development of the Dream Chaser Space System,” said Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada’s corporate vice president.




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