NASA awards contracts to Boeing, SpaceX for commercial travel to ISS

NASA officially announced on Wednesday that both Boeing and SpaceX have been awarded Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts. 

These contracts are for the development of spacecraft that will be able to take astronauts to the International Space Station, with a target start date of 2017. The third company in the running for a contract, Sierra Nevada Corporation, did not receive an award.

This announcement from NASA partially contradicts earlier reports that Boeing was to be the “primary” winner of the contract, with SpaceX only receiving a secondary award. Instead, NASA doesn’t appear to be distinguishing between the two companies as a primary or secondary provider, although there is a difference in the financial value of the two contracts.

Both companies are developing manned capsules which will ferry up to seven passengers and payloads to the International Space Station. Boeing’s CST-100 is planned to be launched by Atlas 5 rockets, which are built and operated by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed. 

The SpaceX Dragon capsule will be launched by SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 rocket.

According to Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders, both companies will have to meet five separate certification milestones, and will receive payment upon completion of each one. That certification process will include a flight with one astronaut on board. 

Once the spacecraft are certified for delivery, each company will be contracted to conduct at least two and up to six spaceflights to the ISS with four crew members and cargo payloads.

“This will enable NASA and its international partners to perform more research on the international laboratory, nearly doubling its research potential,” Lueders said.
The spacecraft will also have the capability to serve as a lifeboat for up to 210 days in the event of an emergency, she added.

According to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the total value of the contracts to the two companies will be worth up to $6.8 billion over the life of the contract. Boeing’s potential award is $4.2 billion and SpaceX’s potential award is for $2.6 billion.

According to Lueders, both contracts have the same goals and requirements. The values of the contracts are based on the proposals submitted by the companies themselves and the amount of money the companies believed they would need to meet the contract requirements.

Both Boeing and SpaceX quickly issued statements regarding the announcement.

“SpaceX is deeply honored by the trust NASA has placed in us,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said in a statement after the announcement. “We welcome today’s decision and the mission it advances with gratitude and seriousness of purpose. It is a vital step in a journey that will ultimately take us to the stars and make humanity a multi-planet species.”

“Boeing has been part of every American human space flight program, and we’re honored that NASA has chosen us to continue that legacy,” John Elbon, Boeing’s VP and general manager, Space Exploration said in a press release.

This contract doesn’t mean, however, that no other companies could provide manned services for NASA. In a teleconference today, Lueders noted that there is an “on-ramp” provision for other providers under the Commercial Crew program, and the company will continue its relationship with other commercial providers like Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin under other agreements.


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