Two upstart commercial space companies have been awarded contracts by NASA for commercial cargo resupply services to the International Space Station. SpaceX, also known as Space Exploration Technologies received a contract for $1.6 billion while Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. has a contract valued at $1.9 billion. NASA has ordered 12 flights from SpaceX and eight from Orbital. In October, at this year’s International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, SpaceX Vice President of Marketing and Communications Diane Murphy said that the six- year-old company has it in their sights to be able to fly to the space station by 2009. For now, the contract is for cargo only, however SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket are human rated, and would be capable of delivering up to 7 crew members to the station. The Dragon could also be used as an escape vehicle. If SpaceX and Orbital can be successful in cargo re-supply, it could pave the way for a potential solution to the gap between the shuttle retirement in 2010 and when the Constellation program would be ready to fly, hopefully by 2015.
“The SpaceX team is honored to have been selected by NASA as the winner of the Cargo Resupply Services contract,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO, SpaceX. “This is a tremendous responsibility, given the swiftly approaching retirement of the Space Shuttle and the significant future needs of the Space Station. This also demonstrates the success of the NASA COTS program, which has opened a new era for NASA in US Commercial spaceflight.”
“We are very appreciative of the trust NASA has placed with us to provide commercial cargo transportation services to and from the International Space Station, beginning with our demonstration flight scheduled in late 2010,” said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “The CRS program will serve as a showcase for the types of commercial services U.S. space companies can offer NASA, allowing the space agency to devote a greater proportion of its resources for the challenges of human spaceflight, deep space exploration and scientific investigations of our planet and the universe in which we live.”
Orbital will use their module called Cygnus to deliver cargo, launched on their Taurus rocket.
These fixed-price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts will begin Jan. 1, 2009, and are effective through Dec. 31, 2016. The contracts each call for the delivery of a minimum of 20 metric tons of upmass cargo to the space station. The contracts also call for delivery of non-standard services in support of the cargo resupply, including analysis and special tasks as the government determines are necessary.
NASA has set production milestones and reviews on the contracts to monitor progress toward providing services. The maximum potential value of each contract is about $3.1 billion. Based on known requirements, the value of both contracts combined is projected at $3.5 billion.
These agreements do fulfill NASA’s need to for cargo delivery to the space station after the retirement of the space shuttle.