Companies Vie for NASA Funding to Develop Spacecraft
In Cocoa Beach Tuesday 100 companies rubbed shoulders as NASA outlined plans to enhance the marketplace for commercial spacecraft to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA wants to make multiple awards of 3 to 5 hundred million dollars by July or August this year, to develop different commercial spacecraft designs.
Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011 the U.S. is unable to launch astronauts into orbit without relying on foreign countries.
Until the commercial crew capability is developed, US crews will continue to ride to the Space Station on Russian Soyuz capsules.
NASA’s Commercial Crew program covers not only the spacecraft to carry the astronauts, but also the launch system, mission control, and ground support.
Yesterday NASA officials outlined the steps companies will have to take to win the award money. They have until March 23rd to submit proposals, and those who win the Space Agreement awards will have until May 2014 to complete their designs. After that, NASA has set further goals for a test flight: the agency wants the spacecraft to be able to carry a crew of four on a three day flight at a minimum altitude of 200 nautical miles.
NASA program manager Ed Mango said they’ll have to convince the space agency they can manage the risks of orbital flight.
“How are you going to make sure your crew is safe enough in order to put this vehicle into space? Based on that, then we might invest in them, and eventually we’ll say, well great, now we’re going to invest in putting our crew on your vehicle.”
As well as the technical challenges of getting astronauts safely into orbit and back again, NASA also faces the challenge of getting adequate funding.
Mango says he’s counting on Congress to back President Obama, who in his budget request this week, more than doubled the commercial crew program’s funding for the fiscal year 2013 to $830 million.
“The question is, can we really take this next big step in the budget restricted environment we’re in. The president believes we should, and that’s what he proposed. So we will be working against that number for now, but at the same point we’re also looking at how we fund if we get less than 830,” he said.
Mango said if the money doesn’t come from congress next year, NASA will have to look at allocating funds from 2014 to help pay for the program.
He said if the funding dries up it will be harder for the commercial space program to reach its goal of getting astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017.