Baku, September 17 (AZERTAC). The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Tuesday announced a major effort dubbed "Launch America", which aims to offer a private partnership to replace the retired Space Shuttle by 2017. Leaked hours before, NASA's awards target two top commerical ventures locked in a heated race to restore America's launch capabilities. Ever since the Space Shuttle was retired in mid-2011, NASA has been exploring private sector alternatives under its Commercial Crew Vehicle (CCV) program. Unfortunately, the CCV has been stymied by budget cuts and lack of established entrants. These cuts in late 2011 pushed the targeted launch window for a manned test of CCV candidates from 2015 to 2017 (still the current target). Initially NASA had planned to make its own spacecraft. But those plans were scrapped in 2010 when NASA announced it was shuttering development of the Ares I launch vehicle which would be topped with an Orion crew capsule. Now amidst rising political tensions with Russia, NASA is under substantial pressure to find an alternative taxi to Russia's Soyuz capsules, which currently ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The first contract awardee hardly comes as a surprise. Elon Musk's Space Exploration Company (SpaceX) was awarded funding to continue the development of its DragonX V2 space capsule. The DragonX V2 (aka the "Crew Dragon") was already targeting a 2017 manned launch window. It has seating for 7 passengers.
SpaceX was actually the smaller contract. It can secure a maximum of $2.6B USD under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program. This is the latest phase of funding in a program that has gone through a number of earlier stages (e.g. in 2012 it was funded as the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program).
NASA awarded a second contract to the Boeing Comp. (BA), which recently partnered with rival firm Blue Origin LLC. The pet project of Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin may build the engines for Boeing's crew vehicle, according to The Wall Street Journal, although its exact role in the project has not yet been officially announced.
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