What with Russia having now monopolised the flying of space crews to the $100 billion International Space Station, NASA is now looking to invest in at least two U.S. firms to design and build what they’re calling ‘space taxis’ to transport astronauts to and from the space station. Russia, it is reported, currently charges around $60 million per person for the privilege.
Planning to invest between $300 million and $500 million in each of the firms selected, NASA has set a deadline of May 2014 in which ‘integrated designs’ for the spacecraft must be completed in order for the completed designs to be tested in orbit by the middle of the decade. The test ships will need to be able to reach an altitude of at least 230 miles, transport up to four crew, be able to maneuver in space and have the capability to stay in orbit for at least three days, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Ed Mango said. The new program, revealed at an industry briefing at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday, is aiming to build on the previous investments made by the agency in companies designing commercial passenger spacecraft. If all goes to plan, NASA has its sight set in and around 2017 as the period in which it will finally be able to fly its astronauts to the space station once again.
Since 2010, the space agency has invested $365.5 million in private companies hoping to nudge into the space flight business; such as Boeing, United Launch Alliance and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). The latter, which has already been selected to transport cargo to the space station, is looking to upgrade its DragonLab freighter and Falcon 9 rocket to fly crew as well. Boeing, meanwhile, is developing a capsule named the CST-100 that would attach to an Atlas 5 rocket. Commercial flights for you and I may still be some time away, but with this kind of evidence the potential, and most importantly the technology and means to achieve it, is most definitely there.