Philip McAlister, NASA:
Plan Calls for Launching Astronauts From US By end of 2017
August 03, 2012
NASA has announced new agreements with U.S. companies to develop
spacecraft so that astronauts once again can launch from the United
States. The U.S. has not had that capability since it retired its space
shuttle fleet last year. Now it looks like the launches could happen by
the end of 2017.
NASA officials say U.S. reliance on Russia to carry American astronauts
to the International Space Station could be over by the end of 2017.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden held a news conference Friday at the
Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"Today we're announcing another critical step toward launching our
astronauts from U.S. soil on space systems built by American companies,"
said Bolden. "We've selected three companies to develop crew
transportation capabilities as a fully integrated system and keep us on
track to end the outsourcing of our human spaceflight program."
The three companies are the California-based Space Exploration
Technologies - commonly known an SpaceX - the Colorado-based Sierra
Nevada Corporation and the Texas-based Boeing Company.
"By keeping these three companies in the mix, we not only ensure
competition, which is good for the taxpayers, but we're also
guaranteeing that we never find ourselves in the situation we're in
today - dependent on a sole provider to get our crews to space," said
Bolden. "For the next 21 months, these partners will perform tests and
complete designs. Through this initiative, NASA will help the private
sector design and develop the human spaceflight capability that could
ultimately lead to the availability of human spaceflight services for
both government and commercial customers."
Seven companies submitted proposals to NASA, and the space agency
selected three to sign agreements. NASA says the three companies offer
proven track records, as well as diversity. They have proposed two types
of spacecraft - a capsule and a lifting body - and two types of launch
vehicles - SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and the veteran Atlas V rocket. All
three companies would primarily launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
According to the agreements, companies are paid only when they meet set
milestones. This so-called "pay for performance" plan helps keep
taxpayer costs in check. Sierra Nevada Corporation could earn $212.5
million if it meets all nine milestones. Boeing Company could earn $460
million if it meets its 19 milestones. And SpaceX could earn $440
million if it meets its 14 milestones.
NASA already has a commercial cargo deal with SpaceX, which made history
in May with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule. SpaceX is the
first and only private company to send a commercial spacecraft to the
International Space Station. Regular cargo transportation missions are
planned to start later this year.
SpaceX plans to reconfigure the Dragon space capsule to accommodate
During a follow-up conference call, NASA's director for commercial
spaceflight development, Philip McAlister, said astronauts could launch
to the space station from the U.S. in about five years.
"NASA has put in our documents that we believe a 2017 date for
operational missions to the ISS is a reasonable date," said McAlister.
says its crewed test flight could come as early as 2015, if everything
NASA's McAlister also praised the broader commercial development
program, saying 2011 was the first time in more than two decades that
there were no commercial launches from the United States. He said there
will be two or three commercial cargo missions this year, solely because
of NASA's public-private partnerships.
"So if it weren't for NASA and our commercial spaceflight initiatives,
we would have had another year - a second straight year - of zero
commercial launches in an industry where we used to lead and have the
majority," said McAlister. "So not only is it great for NASA and great
for the International Space Station, but we're seeing these successes
bleed over to national capabilities as well, which is something we're
really pleased about."
NASA is investing in private companies to handle low-Earth orbit
transportation so that the space agency can focus on developing the next
generation of space vehicles.