Space taxis build to fly NASA astronauts to the international space station are soon to get an unmanned version. Heated competition for cargo resupply services is likely to rise among two companies contended for the same. The cargo resupply and commercial crew initiatives are to be kept separate – NASA. Both the programs provide the U.S space agency a back way to financially assist multiple vehicles for a broader sphere of missions. Presently NASA has combine valued contracts of $3.5 billion with Orbital Sciences Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to supply cargo to the station at first through the end of 2015. Extensions for two years were announced on March 31. According to documents placed on NASA’s procurement website, a draft solicitation for a follow up on contract is expected to be announced on June 16. Spacex, the California-based firm, established and run by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, also has a separate partnership contract and funding via NASA’s commercial crew program to modify its Dragon cargo capsule to transport people. Boeing and privately owned Sierra Nevada Corp. are the other competitors for a fourth and final round of space taxi advancement funds. One or more awards are likely to make by NASA in late August or September. According to John Mulholland, Boeing commercial crew program manager – Boeing, presently developing the Crew Space Transportation (CST) -100 capsule, designed from Day 1 to transport any combination of crew and cargo, will definitely bid for the forthcoming Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contract. As compared to SpaceX’s Dragon which completed the third of 12 resupply missions in May are capable to bring back experiments and equipment from the station to Earth. The new capsule will be designed to carry more than 1,100 kilograms of cargo without crew. Cygnus spacecraft by Orbital Sciences, which is being designed for the second of eight station cargo transport, is crafted to ignite in the atmosphere during re-entry, like Japan’s HTV cargo vehicles, Russia’s Progress and Europe’s ATV. Additional supply line preferences offer is likely to be made by Sierra Nevada with its Dream Chaser space plane. Dream Chaser simulate a miniature space shuttle which can carry 1,350 kilograms of cargo into low Earth orbit, only the time factor needs to be considered to stay in orbit, the vehicle can fly unmanned which stripes out the human factor need, says Mark Sirangelo, vice president of Sierra Nevada Space Systems. As per planning documents NASA, released on the agency’s procurement website, mentions a need on-orbit stay of 45 to 75 days. A strong inclination for use of current launch facilities are appealed by NASA which seeks four to five times flight services annually. Responding to a prospective bidder, the cargo and crew flights will stay separate, says NASA. A final request to proposals on Oct. 1 will be likely to follow after the draft solicitation. Bids would be expected by Nov. 14. One or more contracts covering flights between 2017 and 2024 are expected by the agency.
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