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NASA Picks 5 Firms To Work On LEO Tech 116

Gary W. Longsine writes "Five contracts have been awarded by NASA today, to firms exploring different aspects of the effort to develop a private launch industry for people to low earth orbit. Today's winners include: Sierra Nevada Corp (aka 'SpaceDev') for the Dream Chaser; Boeing in cooperation with Bigelow on a capsule design; United Launch Alliance (Boeing and Lockheed Martin) to explore safety issues related to upgrading Atlas and Delta rockets to human flight safety standards; Blue Origin to build a launch escape system; and Paragon Space Development Corp for 'air vitalization' (aka life support). Will the forecast $6 Billion allocation over five years be enough to inspire private industry to develop not one, but two human rated launch systems (a capsule, and the lifting body Dream Chaser)? NASA clearly wants competition in the private market, so they seek more than one vendor."
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NASA Picks 5 Firms To Work On LEO Tech

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  • Re:A new capsule... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:28PM (#31014362) Journal

    The Orion was being developed by Lockheed-Martin, but Boeing already has an Orion-like capsule design. So this may be more of a lateral move from one company to another than a setback.

    I'm sure there's some good reason for moving from L-M to Boeing for that work. Not sure exactly what it would be, but I'm certain there's a valid reason. If only we could guess...

    On a completely unrelated historical side note, did you know that Boeing moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago in 2001? In an amazing coincidence, I think some major figure in the US political system lives in Chicago, doesn't he? Isn't that terribly interesting, if completely coincidental and off-topic?

  • by pavon ( 30274 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:30PM (#31014396)

    They were already given a contract to develop the Falcon and Dragon for use with delivering cargo to the ISS. See this (now out of date) wikipedia entry on NASA's COTS [] program for more information.

    Right now the Delta and Atlas rocket are the closest thing we have to a man-rated rocket after the shuttle retires, so it only makes sense that NASA would look into this route. NASA is very excited about what SpaceX is doing and once the Falcon 9 proves itself with unmanned cargo, I have no doubt that they will look into getting it man-rated.

  • Yarrrr (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:33PM (#31014428) Homepage

    For some reason I misread "private" as "pirate". Which got me thinking.. How long do we have until there are Space Pirates?

    It may sound far-fetched, but once the value of payload(s) exceeds the cost of launch by some degree, I believe it's inevitable that we'll see criminal involvement. Treaties against the weaponization of space, slow response times, and the ability to drop off both crew and payloads virtually anywhere in the world all make space piracy a potentially lucrative enterprise. It's debatable whether any existing laws would even provide for the prosecution of such activity. Maybe John Carmack is really the next Blackbeard!

    Whoever the first organization is, and I'm not condoning or trivializing the potential for wanton death and destruction caused by Space Piracy, but I sincerely hope they talk like pirates.

  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:39PM (#31014508)

    Don't forget to add "if you break our cargo, you pay for it."

    If you want space transport to work like a trucking business, you should pay for it the way you pay a trucking business.

    If you want space transport to work like a bottomless money black hole, you should fund it like a bottomless money black hole.

    You get what you pay for, and what you get depends on *how* you pay.

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @05:23PM (#31015018)

    Just so.

    Competition would have been offering two (or three or four or more) companies contracts for each general category of hardware (launcher, capsule, etc).

    Picking one company for each piece of hardware is just handing money to someone and saying "Please don't just piss this money away on hookers and coke!".

    Alternatively, of course, they could have done it the way the military does it - release the specs, allow anyone to enter a design, and hold trials. The design that wins, gets the contract.

    Or the way that the military handles big-ticket items - same as above, but pay for development of the two or three most promising designs, then hold the trials.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @05:44PM (#31015278)
    It should also be noted that if you sum together the shuttle and all winged-body vehicles used since the 60s, the numbers shows that its more dangerous to fly these things, than to do a 3 year combat sortie in Europe during world war 2 (KIA ratio 1.4 % , vs. Shuttle etc 1.56 %)

    But I rather sit on top of a rocket with a capsule than some freakish winged thingy. Will be interesting to see how Virgin Galactic will cope with the first fatal failure (and the business as a whole)
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @06:20PM (#31015808) Homepage Journal

    NASA has made no such choice, and Falcon 9/Dragon have been built to all published NASA man-rating standards. The problem is, NASA is perfectly willing to publish more standards later if they see fit. Ya know how developing software with incomplete specifications is hard? Try rockets.

The optimum committee has no members. -- Norman Augustine