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Spaceships get a (smaller) boost

— NASA plans to award $50 million in stimulus funds in November to support private-sector development of new spaceships capable of carrying crew members to the international space station. Details about the program, known as Commercial Crew Development or CCDev, came out on Tuesday via the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

CCDev follows up on the $500 million Commercial Orbital Transportation System program, or COTS, which backs the development of cargo-carrying capability by private-sector spacecraft. California-based SpaceX and Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. are currently benefiting from that program and have been awarded $3.5 billion in contracts for space station deliveries.

When the COTS program was set up, there were suggestions that it could be extended to cover crew flights as well as cargo flights - the so-called Option D, or COTS-D. At one point, NASA had planned to offer $150 million for commercial crew development, but that figure was scaled back last month when Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., protested. The move left some observers grumbling that Shelby was flexing his political muscle to get more money for NASA's multibillion-dollar Constellation program.

Here's Tuesday's release from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, written by executive director John Gedmark, with a Web link to the NASA solicitation announcement:

"Today NASA released information regarding its intention to invest $50 million of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act stimulus funding in multiple competitively awarded, funded agreements for commercial crew concepts. This new program, known as the Commercial Crew Development or 'CCDev,' represents a new milestone in the development of an orbital commercial human spaceflight sector. By maturing 'the design and development of commercial crew spaceflight concepts and associated enabling technologies and capabilities,' the program will allow several companies to move a few steps forward towards the ultimate goal of full demonstration of commercial human spaceflight to orbit.

"According to the solicitation, 'NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program is applying Recovery Act funds to stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities. These efforts are intended to foster entrepreneurial activity leading to job growth in engineering, analysis, design, and research, and to economic growth as capabilities for new markets are created. By developing commercial crew service providers, NASA may be able to reduce the gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability.'

"Full details from today's NASA release can be found by clicking here.

"NASA has also established a website for the new CCDev procurement, accessible at: http://procurement.jsc.nasa.gov/ccdev/.

"Proposals are due September 22, 2009 and a pre-proposal 'Industry Day' will occur at the NASA Johnson Space Center on August 13, 2009. Pursuant to the requirements of the 2009 Recovery Act, the funds will need to be fully spent by September 30, 2010."

NASA's program synopsis says Space Act Agreements for the funds will be awarded in November.