by Nur Hussein, staff writer
NASA has awarded a total of $6.8 billion in grants to two private American companies, Boeing and SpaceX, for further developing spacecraft that will serve NASA’s space-faring needs in future. Boeing is getting $4.2 billion, and SpaceX is getting $2.6 billion. There were four companies competing for the contracts, the two who lost out were Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada.
Since the retirement of the NASA Shuttle fleet, American astronauts have been hitching rides on Russian rockets as the U.S. pays for ferry service between Earth and the International Space Station. The costs aren’t cheap: $71 million per seat and the costs will end up snowballing in the long run. Also, NASA is probably not too keen to be dependent on Russia for its space transport, as political tensions in the region make for unpredictability in planning.
Both Boeing and SpaceX have developed their own spaceflight capabilities in recent years. Boeing’s offering is called the CST-100, and SpaceX’s ship is the called Dragon. While there is no fixed timetable for the future of commercial spaceflight outsourcing, we are looking at American rockets launching as soon as 2017, when existing contracts with Russia are set to expire. Both companies will have to have their technologies certified by NASA to ensure the crafts are safe and reliable.
While sci-fi authors have dreamed up futures where commercial spaceflight is a commonplace business, outsourcing technology to companies is a new move for government-owned NASA which had always used its own vehicles. With multiple companies now competing for a slice of the space-faring cake, we hope we can get more resources thrown at spaceflight and accelerate our journey to the stars.
Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein