NASA announced Friday it will provide an unprecedented investment for two selected firms to develop and demonstrate commercial orbital transportation services.
NASA Exploration Systems' managers announced at a press conference that the two industry partners, SpaceX of California and Rocketplane-Kistler (RpK) of Oklahoma City, will receive a combined total of approximately 500 million dollars to help fund the development of reliable, cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit.
NASA and the two companies signed Space Act Agreements that establish milestones and objective criteria to assess their progress throughout Phase 1 of the competition. They will develop and demonstrate the vehicles, systems, and operations needed to support a human facility such as the International Space Station. Once a capability is demonstrated, NASA plans to purchase crew and cargo delivery services competitively in Phase 2.
"When commercial enterprises turn the journey to low-Earth orbit into a profit-making business model, NASA will be free to focus on goals that are more appropriate for government, such as exploration of the moon and Mars," said Scott Horowitz, associate administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.
The venture makes a break with tradition for the 48-year-old space agency.
"This is the first opportunity NASA has taken to engage entrepreneurs in a way that allows us to satisfy our needs and lets commercial industry gain a foothold. It could, and should, have profound impacts on the way NASA does business," said Marc Timm, acting Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program executive in NASA.
NASA's offer of seed money also fulfills President George W. Bush's directive on Jan. 14, 2004 to promote commercial participation in space exploration.