NASA announced Tuesday that it has chosen SpaceX and The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) for its manned space flight program. The two aerospace companies will help the space agency transport astronauts to the International Space Station. It will also lower NASA’s dependence on the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
NASA will once again launch astronauts from the U.S. soil
Ever since the space shuttle fleet retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russia’s Soyuz capsule to send astronauts to the ISS. It pays Roscosmos a whopping $71 million per seat. The relationship between NASA and its Russian counterpart has come under pressure amid rising tension between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine.
But with the newly awarded contract, the U.S. space agency is one step closer to launch its astronauts from the U.S. soil once again. SpaceX and Boeing won the hotly contested $6.8 billion contract as part of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Development program. Sierra Nevada Corporation, which developed the Dream Chaser, was the loser of the day.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the contract will end the agency’s reliance on Russia by 2017. Neither company has a fixed timeline to have their capsules ready for the manned mission. But Bolden expects them to conduct at least two tests flights by the end of 2017, the year NASA’s contract with Roscosmos is set to expire.
SpaceX to get $2.6 billion under new contract from NASA
SpaceX’s Dragon space capsule has already made unmanned flights to the International Space Station. Boeing’s CST-100 capsule is currently in an advanced stage of development. Before Tuesday, Boeing has received over $570 million from NASA to develop its CST-100 capsule. SpaceX has also received $515 million for its Dragon capsule. CST-100 and Dragon both are seven-seater capsules.
Under Tuesday’s contract, SpaceX will get $2.6 billion, and Boeing will receive $4.2 billion to make their space capsules safe for test flights. Sierra Nevada Corporation, which lost the battle, had also received $300 million in NASA money for its Dream Chaser. Earlier this month, the U.S. government’s undersecretary of defense, Frank Kendall, said they will seek further funding from Congress in the 2016 budget.