Space News is reporting that the competition for $200 million in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) funding is down to at least seven companies:
- Blue Origin
- Orbital Sciences Corporation
- Sierra Nevada Corporation
- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)
- United Launch Alliance (ULA).
Citing industry sources, the publication says that representatives from the companies were invited to Johnson Space Center in Houston earlier this month to discuss their proposals. NASA plans to award funds next month contingent on Congressional action on its budget.
Four of these companies — Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada and ULA — shared $50 million in the first round of CCDev funding last year. SpaceX chose not to submit a bid for the program last year because the funding level was too low for what it needed to do for its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft. Orbital Sciences Corporation is a new entrant for the second round with its Prometheus space plane. ATK has proposed a new rocket combining elements from the Constellation program and Europe’s Ariane 5.
A brief summary of each company’s proposal follows.
ATK has proposed developing a rocket that combines the solid rocket booster developed for NASA’s Ares I rocket with the core stage from Europe’s Ariane 5 booster. The bid is a joint venture with EADS-Astrium. Officials say the rocket could launch any crew vehicle under consideration by NASA.
The Washington State-based company received $3.7 million in funding from NASA last year for technologies associated with its New Shepard suborbital vehicle. The most important element was a “pusher” escape system that could rocket the capsule away from a malfunctioning rocket in an emergency. The system is located under the spacecraft and pushes the capsule away; if it is not used during an escape, the system provides additional fuel for on-orbit maneuvers. A traditional escape tower is located on top and is jettisoned if it not required.
The Chicago-based aerospace giant is working on a seven-passenger CST-100 crew vehicle to serve both the International Space Station and commercial facilities using $18 million in CCDev 1 funding. CST-110 would be launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, although it is being designed to be lifted by other boosters. Boeing’s partner in this venture is Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace, which plans to begin launch private space stations in 2015. The companies have partnered with Space Adventures to market seats aboard the vehicle.
Orbital Sciences Corporation
The Virginia company has proposed its 4-passenger Prometheus space plane to serve the International Space Station. The vehicle, based on previous NASA projects, would be launched atop an Atlas 5 rocket. OSC has partnered with Virgin Galactic to market seats aboard Prometheus.
Sierra Nevada Corporation
The Colorado-based company was the big winner in CCDev 1, receiving a $20 million grant to develop its Dream Chaser space plane. Like OSC’s entrant, the lifting-body vehicle would be launched aboard an Atlas 5 booster. The company also has partnered with Virgin Galactic to market seats.
SpaceX wants funding to begin work on a launch-abort system for its Falcon 9 rocket. The company plans to upgrade its Dragon capsule to carry astronauts into orbit for government and private clients.
United Launch Alliance
NASA awarded ULA $6.7 million in funding under CCDev 1 to develop emergency detection systems for its Atlas 5 and Delta IV rockets that could alert astronauts of trouble with their boosters. ULA’s proposal would expand upon that work. The Atlas 5 is the baseline booster for crew vehicles being developed by Boeing, Orbital Sciences, and Sierra Nevada Corporation.
The list does not include Paragon Space Development Corporation, an Arizona-based company that received $1.4 million in funding under CCDev 1 to develop a life support system. The company completed work on that project. It is possible that the company is part of one of the existing bids and/or will offer its technology to one of the winning companies in the future. The system was designed to be used on multiple spacecraft.