Monday, April 25, 2011

How Tycoons Will Fuel Spaceflight


An artist's concept of the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser at a space station docking port. Image source: Sierra Nevada via MSNBC.com.

MSNBC.com science editor Alan Boyle wrote a lengthy article titled "How Tycoons Will Fuel Spaceflight" that's an excellent overview of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) candidates and how the program works.

It's true that all four companies have received money from the federal government previously, but none of those companies would characterize the payments as "handouts" or "subsidies."

They'd see them instead as payments for services rendered, goods delivered, or milestones achieved along the path that NASA wants them to take. And the $50 million that's been paid out so far under NASA's Commercial Crew Development program, or CCDev, is dwarfed by the $9 billion paid to commercial providers such as Lockheed Martin for the development of NASA's now-canceled Ares 1 rocket and now-downsized Orion crew capsule.

Although the financial details are hard to come by, it's virtually certain that the four companies have already spent far more than they've received for their spaceship projects. It's also virtually certain that not all four projects will make it into orbit. Because NASA is spreading out its bets, failure is definitely an option.

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