NASA awards second round commercial spaceflight contracts

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NASA has awarded $280 million to four companies for development of manned commercial space systems.

The second round of Commercial Crew Development contracts (CCDev2) were awarded to stimulate development of manned commercial space systems, upon which NASA will rely following the impending Space Shuttle retirement.

The largest award, $92.3 million, went to Boeing to develop the CTS-100 capsule. Other awardees include SpaceX, which received $75 million for the Dragon capsule; Blue Origin's New Shepherd with $20 million; and Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser with $80 million.

The NASA contracts, called Space Act Agreements, specify milestones for each company, aimed generally at maturing and testing existing systems.

The spacecraft represent radically different approaches to the challenges of manned spaceflight and include two capsules, one lifting body and one biconic shaped spacecraft.

 spacex

 © SpaceX

Philip McAlister, acting director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA, says: "We considered how far each company would progress technically under its proposed efforts, the degree to which each company would accelerate development of its own concepts and accelerate the availability of a US commercial crew transportation system, and we considered the viability of the company's business approach to support and carry out its development plan."

The Space Act Agreements, containing details of the awards, were posted on the Kennedy Space Center's procurement website on 18 April. Selection criterion were unavailable pending feedback conferences with the four additional bidders who were turned down.

"CCDev1 was an activity to support efforts within industry to develop system concepts, key technologies and capabilities that could ultimately be used in human spaceflight," says McAlister. "CCDev2 activity is emphasising concepts and maturing designs and development of elements of the system, such as spacecraft and launch vehicles."

US President Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget request includes $850 million for CCDev3 and NASA officials believe the programme is on track to conclude by the middle of the decade.