An artist's concept of the Masten Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) for DARPA. Image source: Masten Space Systems.
While NewSpace observers await NASA's announcement of which companies will receive the agency's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) awards, a lesser known commercial partnership program has made its own awards.
NASA has selected four companies to integrate and fly technology payloads on commercial suborbital reusable platforms that carry payloads near the boundary of space. The selection is part of NASA's continuing effort to foster a viable market for American commercial reusable suborbital platforms that allow testing of new space technologies within Earth's atmosphere.
Through these new awards, selected companies will receive an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract for integration and flight services, drawing from a pool of commercial space companies. The three-year contracts have two-year extension options and a minimum value of $100,000. The flights will carry a variety of payloads during five diverse flight profiles to help meet the agency's research and technology needs.
These new contracts are the logical extension of previous contracts awarded in 2011, using commercial capabilities with proven flight systems. This new procurement allows for the addition of new vendors and new flight profiles on an annual basis, based on NASA's requirements.
“We've made tremendous progress in working toward the goal of regular, frequent and predictable access to near-space at a reasonable cost with easy recovery of intact payloads,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These proven flight service providers will allow for payloads from organizations including NASA, industry, academia, and other government agencies to be tested on flights to the edge of space before being committed to demonstration in the harsh environment of space itself.”
The selected companies are:
- Masten Space Systems, Mojave, California
- Paragon Space Development Corp., Tucson, Arizona
- Up Aerospace Inc., Highlands Ranch, Colorado
- Virgin Galactic, New York City
NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate is charged with maturing cross-cutting technologies to flight readiness status for future space missions. Through these contracts, NASA will provide frequent flight opportunities for technology payloads on suborbital platforms.
The Flight Opportunities Program is managed at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California and is part of the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate.