NASA awarded $30 million to three U. S. companies on Monday to certify the safety of their commercial spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.
The space agency is already working with the companies, Boeing and its CST-100 capsule; SpaceX and its Dragon capsule; and Sierra Nevada Corp. and its winged Dream Chaser space plane, to initiate commercial crew launch services by 2017.
The U.S. has not had a domestic human launch capability since NASA’s shuttle fleet was retired in July 2011.
“These contracts represent important progress in restoring human spaceflight capabilities to the United States,” said Phil McAlister, director of the Commercial Spaceflight Development Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “NASA and its industry partners are committed to the goal of safely and cost-effectively launching astronauts from home within the next five years.”
The latest contracts were distributed as follows:
** The Boeing Co., Houston, $9,993,000
** Sierra Nevada Corporation Space System, Louisville, Colo., $10,000,000
— Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif., $9,589,525
NASA envisions a second Certification Products Contracts phase.
During the newly awarded first phase, from Jan. 22, 2013 through May 30, 2014, the three companies are expected to discuss and develop the agency’s flight safety and performance requirements. The results will be implemented across the spacecraft, the launch vehicle, and ground and mission operations.
Boeing and Sierra Nevada are looking to the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 as their launch vehicle. SpaceX plans missions using the company’s own Falcon 9.
Under the contract, a certification plan will be developed to achieve safe, crewed missions to the space station. This includes data that will result in developing engineering standards, tests and analyses of the crew transportation systems design, according to a NASA statement.
Each of the three companies has been working on actual spacecraft hardware development under separate Space Act Agreements managed by NASA’s commercial crew program.