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August 03, 2012

NASA Announces its '2.5' for Commercial Human Spaceflight Development

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Today, NASA announced the three companies that will design and develop commercial-manned spaceflight systems under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program. The goal is launching astronauts from U.S. soil in the next five years for trips to the International Space Station (ISS) and other low Earth orbit (LEO) missions. 

Boeing (News - Alert) and SpaceX received full funding for their proposals using Space Act Agreements, while Sierra Nevada will get roughly half in a "2.5" arrangement brokered between NASA and Congress.

"We are announcing another critical step toward launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on space systems built by American companies," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country."

Sierra Nevada, developing the Dreamchaser spaceplane, will receive $212.5 million as the "0.5" participant. Boeing should get $460 million for its CTS (News - Alert)-100 system launched onboard an ULA Atlas V rocket while SpaceX is slated for $440 million to evolve its unmanned Falcon 9/Dragon capsule combination into a crewed Dragon 2.0 configuration, with updated life support and an escape system.

CCiCap is the third phase of NASA's Commercial Crew Program to help develop a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability, with the immediate goal of providing astronauts a way to get to the $100 billion ISS without having to pay for seats on Russian Soyuz flights – currently the only means to get to the space station. 

The current phase is designed to mature integrated designs so NASA has at least one U.S. vendor – and preferably two, to promote competition and avoid a single track failure – capable of providing flights by the middle of the decade.

Between now and May 31, 2014, the three companies will perform tests and set the state for crewed orbital demonstration missions. 

All three vendors said that with full funding of their proposals, they can perform manned flight demos by 2015 with operations starting in 2016, but it is unclear how much money companies need for "full funding" or if they can maintain a pace that matches press statements if they receive all the money they say they need.   

Vendors have been relatively circumspect to this point in putting a dollar amount on maturing their offerings to manned flight capability. In addition, estimates for when NASA's commercial cargo launch development program was to initially come online proved to be optimistic due to engineering developmental issues encountered by participating companies.

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Edited by Braden Becker

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