Space shuttle Endeavour is ready to fly it’s 25th and final mission on April 29th. That brings us one step closer to the end of the U.S. space program as we know it and one step closer to the future of space travel. In preparation for that future NASA recently awarded $millions to several private contractors for the construction of space taxi’s able to fly to the International Space Station after the shuttles have been retired.
Called the Commercial Crew Development Program, NASA’s goal in this second round of grants is “to accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities and reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capability. Through this activity, NASA also may be able to spur economic growth as potential new space markets are created.” the space agency said in a press release.
This week, NASA awarded between $22 million and $92.3 million to four different companies for work on commercial crew space transportation system concepts to include the design and development of elements of their systems.
“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.”
The lions share, $92 million, will go to Boeing for development of their front-runner CST-100 spacecraft that uses existing materials and technology that is safe and affordable. The CST-100 will carry up to seven people or a combination of people and cargo and is compatible with a variety of existing expendable launch vehicles. Another company, SpaceX will work on that concept too, their version called Dragon.
Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada works on a winged and piloted spacecraft called the Dream Chaser Orbital System. This one will launch on an Atlas V rocket, and will have on-board propulsion utilizing their hybrid rocket motor technology.
Finally, Blue Origin, the Washington-based firm founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is working on a reusable suborbital ship known as New Shepard. This one blasts off from their launch site in Texas where it will take-off vertically and accelerate for about two and a half minutes before shutting off its rocket engines and coasting into space. In space, the Crew Capsule will separate from the PM and the two will reenter and land separately for re-use.