The space exploration company SpaceX is facing stiff competition to maintain its contract in conducting cargo missions for NASA. Rivals of SpaceX, including Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Orbital ATK are all trying to get in on the action.
The company selected for these missions will receive a seven year $3.5 billion contract from NASA. SpaceX is the current provider of these missions, and it has held this position for nearly a decade.
Whichever company is chosen will be responsible for bringing supplies and experiments to the International Space Station. SpaceX is the only company that is entirely the result of United States Technology. The other three all rely on Russian rocket engines to some extent.
NASA plans to announce its decision as to which company it will select as early as Thursday. The space agency has been under pressure from Congress to end its dependence on imported engines. This should bode well for SpaceX.
In 2008, NASA split the $3.6 billion contract between SpaceX and Orbital. This was two years after SpaceX launched its first rocket. This was a major step in turning SpaceX from a dream and into a viable space exploration company.
However, both SpaceX and Orbital have experienced setbacks. In October of last year, an Orbital rocket containing critical space station cargo was destroyed in an explosion. Earlier this year in June, a SpaceX rocket blew up while it was traveling to the space station.
Some analysts predict that because of these accidents, NASA may be more inclined to award, “backup contracts” in the event that something goes wrong with the primary company. However, adding more participants would likely mean less money for the company selected as the primary cargo-hauler.
NASA has not provided many details about the new contract. The space agency has not indicated its ideal number of companies being involved in the program.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, who is perhaps best known for creating the Tesla brand of automobiles. So far, SpaceX has completed six missions for NASA. Meanwhile, Orbital has only completed two missions for NASA.
SpaceX plans to resume offering commercial space flights in December. The company’s flights have been on hiatus since the accident in June. The company believes that receiving the right to work with NASA would be a boost to their commercial program.