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NASA Authorization Bill Passed by House September 30, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Commercial Crew Development [CCDev], Constellation, NASA, National Space Policy, Obama, Space Shuttle , add a comment

The Senate version of the NASA Authorization Bill has been passed by the House!

The bill, approved late Wednesday, gives NASA clearer ‘marching orders’ (as Rick Tumlinson put it on the Huffington Post) going forward, and allows Congress its own modifications on (while finalizing) Obama’s new direction for the space program.

A breakdown:

It’s good to see a bill passed that doesn’t dramatically alter Obama’s vision, and it is nice to see that new heavy lift moved up four years—even if it potentially is reusing parts of the Shuttle and Ares systems. With the new plan basically bypassing the Moon (as private companies lodge it in their sights), moving up the rocket four years could mean any NASA involvement on (or benefit from) the Moon could happen that much sooner.

For great in-depth coverage of the lead-up and reactions to the bill, check out Space Politics and NASA Watch :)

A Look at NASA's New CCDev (Commercial Crew Development) Funding Awards February 11, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, Boeing, Commercial Crew Development [CCDev], Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceDev, Uncategorized, United Launch Alliance , 2comments

In the wake of all the hububb over NASA’s new direction, an important step in that direction landed a little quietly—the awarding of $50 million in stimulus funds to five commercial firms.

“The president has asked NASA to partner with the aerospace industry in a fundamentally new way, making commercially provided services the primary mode of astronaut transportation to the International Space Station. We are pleased to be able to quickly move forward to advance this exciting plan for NASA.” -NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, NASA Press Release

The press release calls this a ‘first step’ in the new direction for NASA. Technically speaking, though, this actually builds off of a step taken just days into the Obama administration—the big Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contracts given to SpaceX and Orbital for the resupply of the ISS (previously done by the Space Shuttle).

So now, in addition to SpaceX and Orbital, NASA has doled out funds to additional companies for develop solutions for crew transportation to low-earth orbit (and thereby, help ‘catalyze‘ the private space industry—and by association. the economy). Here’s a look at the five winners, and the projects they’re working on (in order of totals awarded):

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SpaceDev)

The Sierra Nevada Corporation, which acquired private space company SpaceDev in 2008, was awarded $20 million of the $50 million total. While the NASA release doesn’t specify projects, this appears to be towards the development of SpaceDev’s lifting-body spaceplane called the Dream Chaser (pictured above).

The Dream Chaser is based off the the old NASA HL-20 concept, designed as an affordable backup plan to the Shuttle. Here’s a quick Youtube video (with some hip music :D ) that gives an idea:

Boeing

A longtime stalwart of space efforts, Boeing received $18 million towards the development of an unspecified crew module concept. Alongside Boeing with this CCDev project is Bigelow Aerospace, an established leader in the development of commercial crewed space stations:

“We’re excited about this program and the Boeing partnership in general. Boeing brings with it unparalleled experience and expertise in human spaceflight systems, which will be combined with Bigelow Aerospace’s entrepreneurial spirit and cost-conscious practices.” -Robert T. Bigelow, president and founder of Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing press release

The United Launch Alliance

Already operators of the oft-used Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, this partnership between Boeing and Lockheed was awarded $6.7 million to develop an Emergency Detection System to help make the Atlas and Delta rockets become human-rated launch vehicles.

Blue Origin

Blue Origin, the slightly mysterious private space firm started by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, received $3.7 million, apparently (as Jeff Foust of the NewSpace Journal and Space Politics tweeted) for the development of a “concept for bi-conic crew vehicle that could be launched on Atlas 5“, the Atlas V of course being the United Space Alliance’s vehicle.

Blue Origin’s known craft under development is the New Shepard, a vertical take-off and landing craft inspired by the old NASA DC-X concept. With a very 1950′s sci-fi style, it simply launches straight up (to orbit) and reenters the same way, all the way down to landing on struts. A video of their Goddard prototype’s 2006 test flight gives an idea:

Paragon Space Development Corporation

And last, but not least, Paragon, a company that develops life support and thermal control systems, was awarded $1.7 million towards a “revitalization system for use in crewed spacecraft“. Here’s a neat NASA video about Paragon, their background, and the work they do:

With these major selections—and NASA’s new direction being pointed directly at them—these companies will become, alongside other partners like SpaceX and Orbital, leaders in American space going forward. Expect to be hearing about those featured technologies a lot, particularly as the competition heats up for a preferred method :) It’s quite a wide variety of designs, too, so it should be fun to see the pros and cons of each play out.

Google Lunar X PRIZE Roundup #9 February 6, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in : Commercial Crew Development [CCDev], Google Lunar X Prize, Google Lunar X Prize Roundup, NASA , 2comments

With the cancellation of NASA’s Constellation program this week—and subsequent shift to a focus on private space—the Google Lunar X PRIZE has taken on greatly added significance, especially to Americans, as private space essentially is becoming our program. What role America plays in the integration and colonization of the Moon, will now be driven by what our private companies and citizens can accomplish.

Keep an eye here this coming week for a special look at the American Google Lunar X PRIZE efforts, and what they’re up to as they (along with companies like SpaceX) take on the mantle :)

But, without further ado, here’s your two-week edition of the GLXP Roundup!:

The X PRIZE Foundation held their third Google Lunar X PRIZE team summit! A recap:

All the other news and bits from across the spectrum:

Phew! Tons of big stuff for that one, and virtually all of it was in only one of the two weeks. Pace should only continue with NASA’s new mandate :) Keep an eye out this week for my posts on the American GLXP efforts and on those big CCDev contracts!