Boeing and SpaceX have won the NASA contract as the first private companies to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.
The Commercial Crew program is aimed at ending the reliance on Russia to provide the transportation.
Boeing and SpaceX will receive a total of $6.8 billion to prepare for certification by 2017. That will include a crewed flight to the ISS. Each company will have to prove that their system is at least as safe as the old Space Shuttle program.
Based on each company’s tender, Boeing will receive $4.2 billion and SpaceX $2.6 billion.
The third contender, and the most radical design, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser craft was knocked out of the round.
The certification process will involve a flight with at least one NASA astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, manoeuvre in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected.
Once each company passes NASA certification, they will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station.
SpaceX’s Dragon 2 craft. Dragon in 2012 became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth [Credit: SpaceX]