NASA’s $50 Million Commercial Crew Investment to Fund Different Approaches

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Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser - a seven-person space shuttle designed for orbital flight.

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser - a space shuttle designed for orbital flight and ISS servicing.

The $50 million in contract awards that NASA announced earlier this month will fund a number of approaches to commercial human spaceflight, including a new capsule and a small space shuttle. The space agency also spread out awards between newer, entrepreneurial companies and established aerospace giants.


Sierra Nevada Corporation

Sparks, Nevada
$20 million

The company received funding to continue the development of its small Dream Chaser space shuttle. The vehicle would be launched into space aboard an Atlas V and land at a conventional runway.

Dream Chaser is a project of SpaceDev, a fully-owned subsidiary that Sierra Nevada acquired in December 2008. Company officials have been working with NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) office to configure the shuttle to service the International Space Station. The company also has an MOU with United Launch Alliance on human-rating the Atlas V rocket.

Artist's conception of Boeing's commercial crew module. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing Company
Houston, TX
$18 million

Boeing will be conducting further research on a capsule-based crew system that could be launched on a number of rockets and be configured for a mixture and crew and cargo missions. The system will be larger than the Apollo space capsule.

The company is partnering with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that plans to launch a private space station beginning in 2014.

United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy.

United Launch Alliance
Centennial, Colorado
$6.7 million

ULA – a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing – is receiving funds to develop emergency detection systems that could alert  ground controllers and the crew about problems with the booster rocket. This system would be crucial in human rating the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets that ULA currently uses to launch satellites into space.

Blue Origin
Kent, Washington
$3.7 million

The mysterious company – owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com – has been developing its New Shepard vehicle for suborbital flights. The funding would assist in the development of a crew compartment and escape system.

Paragon Space Development Corporation
Tucson, Arizona
$1.4 million

Paragon is receiving funds for the development of life support systems for future crew missions. The company has been building these systems for Constellation program.

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