NASA helps two commercial spacecraft blast off

NASA gives $475,000 to Masten, Armadillo as part of commercial space development plan

NASA delivered some punch to its Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program today by awarding about $475,000 to two companies looking to make a big sub-orbital space slash.

NASA said the funds will help the companies demonstrate the flight capabilities of new vehicles to provide recoverable launch and testing of small payloads going to "near-space," the region of Earth's atmosphere between 65,000 and 350,000 feet. The CRuSR awards will fund two flights this fall and one this winter of Armadillo's Super-Mod vehicle from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The first two flights will be to an altitude of approximately nine miles and the third to approximately 25 miles.

NASA amps up wicked cool competitive prize program

The Masten Space Systems' Xaero vehicle will make four flights this winter from the Mojave Spaceport in California. Two flights will reach an altitude of approximately three miles and two others will be to approximately 18 miles, with an engine shutdown during flight, NASA stated.

The two firms, Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems have made significant headway towards space.  NASA last year awarded the $1 million first prize to Masten Space Systems and a $500,000 second prize to Armadillo Aerospace for successfully completing the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

The CRuSR program fosters the development of commercial reusable transportation to near space. The overall goal of the program is regular, frequent and predictable access to near-space at a reasonable cost with easy recovery of intact payloads.

As part of its strategy to help bolster the commercial space industry NASA paid out a number of awards to companies it says  could help design and build future spacecraft that could take astronauts to and from the International Space Station and Low Earth Orbit. Those companies include Blue Origin: $3.7 million; Paragon Space Development Corporation: $1.4 million; Sierra Nevada Corporation: $20 million;

Boeing recently offered a glimpse of the commercial spacecraft it is working on under an $18 million contract with NASA.  Boeing's Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 can hold seven crew and will be bigger than Apollo but smaller than NASA's Orion, and be able to launch on a variety of different rockets, including Atlas, Delta and Falcon. It will use a simple systems architecture and existing, proven components, Boeing stated.

The company envisions the spacecraft supporting the International Space Station and future Bigelow Aerospace Orbital Space Complex systems.  Bigelow is building what it calls "expandable habitats," that which are inflatable spacecraft would act as large, less costly space stations that NASA has also helped fund. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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