Late yesterday, NASA announced which company will get a $6.8 billion agency contract to build commercial space vehicles. The space agency tapped two companies for the job. Boeing and SpaceX. Boeing receives the majority at $4.2 billion, while Elon Musk’s SpaceX gets $2.6 billion.
The move solves a multitude of problems for the U.S. government ranging from financial to diplomatic. The obvious is we won’t be counting on Russia for transportation much longer. At $70 million a seat, sending astronauts to the International Space Station gets expensive in a hurry. Plus, diplomatic tensions between the two countries have risen over the past year.
“From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said in a statement.
For NASA, it means the agency can put their limited money into other avenues such as research or possible deep-space missions.
Bolden touched on different things NASA can focus on now in the same statement. “Turning over low-earth orbit transportation to private industry will allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission — sending humans to Mars,” Bolden said.
Oh, and a private company won’t spend twenty grand on a hammer either.
The two companies selected to build commercial vehicles aren’t strangers to NASA. Boeing has been involved with NASA for years. SpaceX is a relative newcomer, but did score a $1.6 billion contract shipping cargo to the ISS.
NASA described the contracts in their press release.
The contracts include at least one crewed flight test per company with at least one NASA astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected. Once each company’s test program has been completed successfully and its system achieves NASA certification, each contractor will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station. These spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the station.
Both companies won’t be restricted to NASA either. Expect space tourism to get a lot more popular in the next few years.
Image credit: Florida from the ISS, NASA