Dawn of a New Era? NASA Gives $50M to Private Space Companies
A few days after the White House released its budget that proposes axing NASA’s Constellation program and providing more support to private space flight, the Obama administration began to follow through on the second part of that equation. NASA has announced that it’s giving $50 million to five companies to support new space vehicles.
That $50 million isn’t from the revised budget, but rather the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (or in more common parlance, the $787 billion federal stimulus package). Nevertheless, NASA chief Charles Bolden said these five companies–Sierra Nevada Corporation, Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corp., and United Launch Alliance–would play a large part in future plans. “Ladies and gentlemen, these are the faces of the new frontier. The vanguard,” said Bolden. “We will certainly be adding to this group in the near future” [Space.com].
Sierra Nevada received the largest grant: $20 million for the development of their “Dream Chaser,” a seven-person crew vehicle based on the Hl-20 runway landing, heavy lifting body concept (looks similar to the canceled Crew Return Vehicle for the ISS) [Universe Today]. Boeing received $18 million to advance its work on a personnel capsule that could be launced by various different rockets; the company has partnered with Bigelow Aerospace on the project. Blue Origin, the pet project of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos that DISCOVER has covered before, was awarded nearly $4 million to develop the escape system for its module. The others received funds for environmental controls on board their spaceships or for monitoring the health of old rockets that could be reused.
Those totals are small compared to the $3.5 billion NASA has already provided SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation to develop vehicles to reach the International Space Station, as well as the monetary support that could reach private space companies if Congress approves Obama’s budget with its change of direction for NASA. But Bolden acknowledged that this announcement was tied to the Administration’s new plans, and NASA will be working more and more with these companies in the days to come.
Image: flickr / PauloReCanuto