MOSCOW, August 22 (RIA Novosti) – NASA is expected to sign a multibillion-dollar deal with a private company to launch US astronauts from the United States instead of paying Russia to use its Soyuz spacecraft, according to The Washington Post.
“In the coming weeks, NASA is expected to announce its long-awaited solution: a multibillion-dollar contract to build a US spacecraft, which could help reignite a struggling American space program,” the newspaper reported.
It went on to say that the contract would enable the United States to launch astronauts from its own soil instead of paying in excess of $70 million for a seat on the Soyuz.
At the moment, three contenders for the contract with NASA are named – SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Boeing – but they have yet to prove their ability to safely fly humans into orbit. The company that will end up striking a deal will also have to pass NASA’s certification program, which could take years.
SpaceX and Boeing have developed capsules that can take astronauts to space, while Sierra Nevada has come forth with a “space plane,” resembling a miniature version of the space shuttle that can land on runways.
Attempts at launching a commercial space program were made during the presidency of George W. Bush but President Barack Obama’s administration did not show much support for the initiative, causing time delays.
NASA hopes to carry out two trips to the International Space Station (ISS) a year on average.
Initially, NASA intended to launch the first astronauts under the commercial crew program by 2015, however, budget issues postponed it until 2017.