Advancing History: The Commercial Crew Awards

NASA announced the winners of the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Contracts this morning, and the agency couldn’t have made a better decision. The awards went to Boeing ($460 million)  SpaceX ($440 million) and Sierra Nevada ($212.5 million).

This next phase of the program is scheduled to last until  May 31st, 2014, and will see all three entrants perform tests and mature integrated designs. In selecting Boeing and SpaceX as primary winners, NASA has followed through on its committment to pursue competition, while at the same selecting the two entrants most likely to reach a flight ready crew rated system by the earliest possible date given the budget limitations imposed by Congress. Sierra Nevada, for its part will apparently have a chance to mature the Dreamchaser spaceplane, while the Boeing / ULA team does the heavy work in converting the Atlas V for its new role.

Assuming all systems are still be designed as being launch vehicle agnostic as originally stated, the stage is set for healthy, robust competition which will ultimately allow a concentration of flight assignments on the more affordable launch vehicle, which is clearly the Falcon 9.  In taking the long view over what system offers the best opportunity to lowering the cost to orbit, if SpaceX successfully demonstrates even first stage recovery techniques with the Grasshopper program, then we are suddenly on the road to a 2/3 reusable space transportation system.

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