Next-generation US space racers outline plans

Apr 28, 2011 by Kerry Sheridan
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off in 2010 to launch the Dragon space capsule into orbit. A handful of companies competing to make the spaceship to replace the iconic US shuttle said Thursday they are racing to shrink what will be a long gap in flying Americans into space aboard US craft.

A handful of companies competing to make the spaceship to replace the iconic US shuttle said Thursday they are racing to shrink what will be a long gap in flying Americans into space aboard US craft.

Boeing, and Sierra Nevada Corporation were among the big winners of the latest round of US government funding, totaling 269.3 million dollars, through a NASA program to boost private companies' efforts.

It will likely be 2015 before a US vehicle is ready to take humans into space again, a timeline that has been widely touted by NASA as a reason for American optimism as the 30-year-old shuttle program comes to an end later this year.

But according to Mark Sirangelo, program manager at the Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corp., his team could eke out a crew flight one year earlier with its Dream Chaser, modeled on a NASA design for a space station rescue vehicle.

"Our vehicle has been in testing for 12 years," said Sirangelo, adding that atmospheric tests would begin in 2012 and the first orbital tests would follow in 2014.

"By that time we would be crewed and ready in 2014," he said.

Sierra Nevada won the largest amount of NASA seed money, $20 million, in the first round in 2010, and the second largest sum in the latest round of NASA contracts issued earlier this month at $80 million.

SpaceX won $75 million in new seed money this year, after it became the first company to successfully send its own , the gumdrop-shaped Dragon, into orbit and back in December 2010.

The California-based company sent newly hired ex-NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman to speak to reporters alongside competitor companies at Kennedy Space Center one day before Endeavour takes off on the second-to-last .

"We are taking it to the next level," said Reisman, who smiled broadly after showing a slick animated video punctuated by electric guitar and pounding drumbeats, illustrating the company's progress in spaceflight.

"The Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon capsule were designed from day one to carry people," he said. "It is under contract and we have built this in cooperation with NASA."

SpaceX is planning a cargo launch for the Dragon later this year, to "take it to the , dock it and unload it," he said.

As to when the Dragon might carry astronauts, Reisman said it depends on funding.

"We still believe we could have people in the Dragon three years from now, however we would need additional support from NASA," he said.

Boeing won the biggest contract in this round with $92.3 million, and program manager John Elbon said the money would be used to advance its CST-100 spacecraft through the design review process with an eye to "full crew transport ability by 2015."

"We are really focused on keeping it simple," said Elbon.

"Having a simple system makes it safe and reliable and helps keep operational costs low."

Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, got $22 million in funding, but its New Shepard vehicle is only being tested for sub-orbital flight "before we commit to orbital development," said company representative Rob Meyerson.

Sirangelo said the contract system sets competition in motion by paying companies only after they reach certain milestones.

"It self adjusts -- those companies that are successful will continue to advance and those that do not will not get paid."

The US space is set to end later this year after the Atlantis launch in June. Then, Russian space capsules will be the sole method for bringing astronauts to the International Station and back.

"The machine is not the most important," said Ed Mango, program manager for NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

"It is the people and the intelligence behind the machine that makes the machine fly."

Explore further: Heavy metal frost? A new look at a Venusian mystery

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA awards $270 million in spaceship contracts

Apr 18, 2011

NASA on Monday announced it has awarded nearly 270 million dollars to four companies, including Boeing and SpaceX, to help their pursuit of making a spacecraft to replace the US space shuttle.

US space capsule launch set for Wednesday

Dec 07, 2010

A US company has received the go-ahead to launch its first space capsule into orbit Wednesday, in a key test for the future of commercial space flight as NASA looks to end its shuttle program.

US must be 'unafraid' of private spaceflight: NASA

Mar 02, 2011

NASA's chief said Wednesday that America must be "unafraid" of a new future in spaceflight and vowed full confidence that private business can come up with a solution to replace the space shuttle.

SpaceX Plans Reusable Seven Person Capsule

Mar 15, 2006

SpaceX said it plans to develop a reusable capsule that could carry a crew of up to seven into low Earth orbit, making it a competitor to assume some of the tasks of NASA's space shuttle fleet after it is retired.

Recommended for you

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

11 minutes ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

MAVEN studies passing comet and its effects

7 hours ago

NASA's newest orbiter at Mars, MAVEN, took precautions to avoid harm from a dust-spewing comet that flew near Mars today and is studying the flyby's effects on the Red Planet's atmosphere.

How to safely enjoy the October 23 partial solar eclipse

7 hours ago

2014 – a year rich in eclipses. The Moon dutifully slid into Earth's shadow in April and October gifting us with two total lunars. Now it's the Sun's turn. This Thursday October 23 skywatchers across much ...

How to grip an asteroid

8 hours ago

For someone like Edward Fouad, a junior at Caltech who has always been interested in robotics and mechanical engineering, it was an ideal project: help develop robotic technology that could one day fly on ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ruebi
5 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2011
If only bush had supported these companies instead of throwing money away on nasa, there would be no gap.
Vendicar_Decarian
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 28, 2011
Give it up America. Just accept that you will not even be a nation in 10 years time.
rbrtwjohnson
not rated yet Apr 29, 2011
I believe development of "Cutting Edge Technologies" is that will make the difference in future space exploration. www.youtube.com/w...MByWXphQ