For weeks now, those who follow NASA's commercial spaceflight activities have been waiting to see who would win the next round of funded Space Act Agreements. Called CCiCap, or Commercial Crew Integrated Capability, the awards are the third round of NASA's bet that private companies can eventually make it easier and less expensive to ferry astronauts to and from orbit than NASA's aging Soyuz capsules.
Speculation had focused on four companies: Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle and Blue Origin's Crew Transportation System capsule, all of which are in line to compete for the eventual 210 day-ISS lifeboat role. NASA and industry alike are also working on a bigger, heavier-lifting rocket to ferry astronauts to and from distant destinations such as the Moon, asteroids and eventually Mars.
Chicago-based Boeing topped the list of winners, scoring $92.3 million for 19 milestones that will take it through critical design review (CDR) of its CST-100 crew capsule and upgrades to the Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance that will launch it. Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin took home $22 million; and Sparks, Nev.-based Sierra Nevada earned $80 million.
Both NASA officials and the companies themselves have cautioned against reading too much into the dollar amounts awarded. They say each company's milestone plan and funding profile was negotiated on an individual basis, and that nobody should infer the amounts equate to a rank order of the companies. The awards are designed to help each company get closer to being ready to begin testing and flight trials in 2014, with the first human spaceflights taking place a few years later.