The space agency chose the US multinational Boeing Co and California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) for the multi-billion dollar contract to carry astronauts in space taxis to and from orbit using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively.
While Boeing Co got a contract worth $4.2 billion, SpaceX grabbed $2.6 billion fixed-price contract, NASA said in a statement.
“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,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden at the agency’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
“Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from US soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017,” he announced.
Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars.
These Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts are designed to complete the NASA certification for human space transportation systems capable of carrying people into orbit.
Once certification is complete, NASA plans to use these systems to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth.
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 programme 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 ISS.
“We are excited to see our industry partners close in on operational flights to the International Space Station, an extraordinary feat industry and the NASA family began just four years ago,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme.
The companies will own and operate the crew transportation systems and be able to sell human space transportation services to other customers in addition to NASA, thereby reducing the costs for all customers.