Boeing, SpaceX land NASA spacecraft contract

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA on Tuesday signaled the end to the long drought of sending astronauts into space from Florida by announcing that the next generation of America’s manned spacecraft will be produced and operated by the private space transportation companies Boeing and SpaceX.

“I am just giddy today, I admit,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “I couldn’t be happier.”

NASA announced a set of multiyear contracts worth $6.8 billion to hire Boeing Space Exploration of Houston and Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, of Hawthorne, California, to finish developing their new spacecraft and have them ready to taxi American astronauts to and from the International Space Station by 2017.

When the new spacecraft are operating, they will provide the first American-based space rides to astronauts since NASA ended its space shuttle program in 2011. Both companies will be launching from Cape Canaveral, though likely from pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, rather than from the NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA officials announced the new deals while describing a future in which lower-Earth flights will be expanded to private companies, and therefore eventually to private citizen astronauts.

Boeing will be using its Boeing’s CST-100 vessel, a traditional capsule reminiscent of the Apollo days.

SpaceX will use its Dragon V2, a more modern capsule design based on its Dragon capsule that already has been ferrying NASA supplies to the space station for the past two years.

The two-service arrangement means that NASA is turning both to an old-school aerospace giant, Boeing, and the most prominent of a booming set of 21st-century entrepreneurial space companies, SpaceX, founded by Internet billionaire Elon Musk.

NASA’s decisions means Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev., and its space-shuttle-like Dream Chaser vessel are out. Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada were the finalists in NASA’s four-year, $1.55 billion competition to see which private companies could best develop private spacecraft to transport of astronauts into lower Earth orbit.

While NASA’s commercial crew program could use the taxi service as early as 2017, the space agency’s budget challenges make it unlikely that it will actually be able to use the private taxi before 2018 at the earliest.

The space station is expected to remain in use through 2024.

NASA declined to say how much the contracts would be worth, saying the deals were still being worked out.

In the development competition phases, NASA paid Boeing $621 million, SpaceX $545 million and Sierra Nevada $363 million. Five other companies that previously fell out of the competition split the rest of the development money.

The losers in the competition are not expected to drop out of the space taxi business however. Each company has talked about opportunities to ferry private-sector astronauts to commercial stations and satellites that are being planned.

The last time astronauts went to space from Kennedy — or anywhere in America — was the final mission of the space shuttle Atlantis, which came back to Earth on July 21, 2011. Since then American astronauts have been going to and from the space station aboard Russian Soyuz capsules. NASA is paying Russia $1.7 billion to provide that service from 2012 to 2017.

The demise of the space shuttle program in 2011 meant the loss of as many as 10,000 jobs at Kennedy Space Center and an assortment of businesses supporting it on the Space Coast. While the space taxi – officially called the commercial crew vehicle – would help restore a manned space flight mission, the big hope for jobs growth remains tied to NASA’s deep-space plans, which will not begin to materialize until late this decade and in the 2020s.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Sept. 30, 2020. Boeing said Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, that it took more than 200 net orders for passenger airplanes in December and finished 2022 with its best year since 2018, which was before two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max jet and a pandemic that choked off demand for new planes. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Boeing inks deal for up to 300 737 Max planes with Ryanair

At Boeing’s list prices, the deal would be worth more than $40 billion if Ryanair exercises all the options.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Four recognized for building a better community

Economic Alliance of Snohomish County hosts annual awards

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Business Briefs: Pandemic recovery aid and workforce support program

Snohomish County launches small business COVID recovery program, and is now accepting NOFA grant applications.

Elson S. Floyd Award winner NAACP President Janice Greene. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Janice Greene: An advocate for supplier diversity and BIPOC opportunities

The president of the Snohomish County NAACP since 2008 is the recipient of this year’s Elson S. Floyd Award.

Emerging Leader Rilee Louangphakdy (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Rilee Louangphakdy: A community volunteer since his teens

Volunteering lifted his spirits and connected him with others after the death of a family member.

Emerging Leader Alex McGinty (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Alex Zitnik-McGinty: Find a group you like and volunteer!

Her volunteer activities cover the spectrum. Fitting in “service work is important as we grow.”

Opportunity Lives Here award winner Workforce Snohomish and director, Joy Emory. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Workforce Snohomish receives Opportunity Lives Here Award

Workforce offers a suite of free services to job seekers and businesses in Snohomish County.

Henry M. Jackson award winner Tom Lane. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Tom Lane: An advocate for small and local businesses

The CEO of Dwayne Lane’s Auto Family is a recipient of this year’s Henry M. Jackson Award.

John M. Fluke Sr. award winner Dom Amor. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dom Amor: Working behind the scenes to improve the region

Dom Amor is the recipient of this year’s John M. Fluke Sr. Award

Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022  (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett nuclear fusion energy company nets first customer: Microsoft

The Everett company, on a quest to produce carbon-free electricity, agreed to provide power to the software giant by 2028.

Hunter Mattson, center, is guided by Blake Horton, right, on a virtual welding simulation during a trade fair at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, Washington, on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. High school kids learned about various trades at the event. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Trade fair gives Snohomish County kids glimpse of college alternatives

Showcasing the trades, the Trade Up event in Monroe drew hundreds of high school students from east Snohomish County.

A Tesla Model Y Long Range is displayed on Feb. 24, 2021, at the Tesla Gallery in Troy, Mich.  Opinion polls show that most Americans would consider an EV if it cost less, if more charging stations existed and if a wider variety of models were available. The models are coming, but they may roll out ahead of consumer tastes. And that could spell problems for the U.S. auto industry, which is sinking billions into the new technology with dozens of new vehicles on the way.  (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Tesla leases space at Marysville business park

Elon Musk’s electric car company reportedly leased a massive new building at the Cascade Business Park.