Two days before the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in a spectacular fashion, NASA awarded the next generation of human spaceflight with a large chunk of money. The Commercial Crew integrated Capability Initiative (CCiCap) awarded money for the development of commercial crew capable vehicles that could well be the follow up to the space shuttle in bringing astronauts to the International Space Station.
The $1.1 billion dollars goes to 3 different companies with 3 very different vehicles. These awards don’t all amount to money in hand though, as the money will get doled out to each winner as they complete certain design and testing milestones within a set time frame all the way up to the Critical Design Review (CDR) which is pretty much the final verification of a craft’s design before it gets approved for manned test flights.
3rd place: The Dream Chaser
Sometimes getting the bronze medal isn’t such a bad thing, especially if your third place trophy happens to be in the form of $212.5 million. Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser is the only entry in the CCDev program to have a lifting body space plane design and is the coolest looking spacecraft in the bunch. With the third place award the Dream Chaser is not expected to make it all the way to the CDR, but it will definitely help speed along development. The Dream Chaser is aiming at having its first manned test flight in 2016.
2nd place: The Dragon
I will admit, the SpaceX’s Dragon capsule coming in 2nd place has me scratching my head a bit. One would think having the only vehicle that has been launched into orbit, docked with the ISS and recovered with a cargo transported from space, that the Dragon would have the top pick and be awarded the most prize money, but apparently not. The $440 million SpaceX was awarded with is still a sizable wad of cash though, and it remains the odds on favorite to be the first to the finish line with its first manned test flight scheduled for 2015. It’s a little crazy that SpaceX are the ones beating everyone to the punch when they are also the only ones who are developing a completely new rocket to carry their manned vehicle to space as well.
1st place: The CST-100
Boeing’s CST-100 capsule design won the biggest part of the prize with $460 million (also of note: it won first prize in the least inspiring name for a spacecraft award). Even though the CST-100 won the biggest chunk of award money, according to Space.com, they’ll have the most work to do in order to get all of that money as well. With a whopping 19 development milestones to complete in order to get the full amount, the Boeing team is going to be fairly busy trying to meet the deadline for the CCiCap awards on May 31st, 2014. The CST-100 is expected to make its first manned test flight in 2016.