Artists image of the Dragon spacecraft in orbit (Image: SpaceX)
Once the last of NASA’s space shuttle fleet shuffle off to retirement in a few months the space agency will be totally dependent on the Russian Soyuz to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. At a cost of around US$63 million per seat, or more than $753 million a year, NASA is turning to the commercial companies to provide a more economical option. As part of the second round of funding for the agency’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative that aims to stimulate development of privately operated crew vehicles to low Earth orbit, it will dole out grants totaling $269.3 million to four private companies. One of the recipients is SpaceX, which has been awarded $75 million to develop a launch escape system for its Dragon spacecraft.