Thursday, April 07, 2011

Budget uncertainty delays commercial crew awards

NASA was expected to announce this week the winners of a second round of funding for development of the U.S. spacecraft and rockets that will fly astronauts after the shuttle.

But it appears the announcement is on hold given continued uncertainty about the 2011 budget and a looming federal government shutdown.

Companies contending for a share of the more than $200 million to be awarded don't expect news until the budget talks are resolved.

NASA plans to rely on commercial services to taxi astronauts to and from the International Space Station after the shuttle's retirement this year. Russian spacecraft will provide the only access to the station until the new U.S. vehicles are ready.

NASA last year awarded $50 million in stimulus funds to five companies to further their work on spacecraft and rockets. The next round will be larger and essentially select the finalists for crew taxi contracts.

The space agency requested $850 million for the program in 2012 to speed development of the vehicles, a request that has met resistance from members of Congress who want more money dedicated to a heavy-lift rocket.

IMAGE: Artist's rendering of Boeing's proposed CST-100 commercial crew capsule.

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