SpaceX, RpK win COTS awards

NASA announced this afternoon that, as many people suspected in the days leading up to this afternoon’s announcement, that SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) won Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) awards to develop cargo and crew transportation vehicles to serve the ISS. SpaceX proposed the Dragon capsule, launched atop a Falcon 9, as described in an article I wrote in this week’s issue of The Space Review.

SpaceX said in a press release that they planned to perform three test flights of the Dragon in late 2008 and early 2009. RpK proposed the K-1 vehicle that Kistler Aerospace developed (and started to build) in the 1990s, with a module to carry cargo or passengers. RpK plans to perform the first flights of the K-1 in early 2008 and said in a statement that it remains committed to its XP suborbital spaceplane, which will make its first flights in “late 2008″, a bit later than previous plans.

Both vehicles also plan to serve commercial markets, such as orbital space tourism; Musk has previously stated an interest in supporting Bigelow’s orbital modules. Both companies will also be leaning on the private sector for funding to support the development of the vehicles: MSNBC reports that SpaceX is planning to spend around $200 on Dragon and Rocketplane would get on the order of $400 million in private financing.

SpaceX and RpK beat out four other finalists for the COTS award: Andrews Space, SpaceDev, SPACEHAB, and t/Space. Of the four, only SpaceDev has issued a statement since the award announcement, congratulating the winning companies as well as to NASA. “We will continue to look for other avenues to develop these technologies and further our capability to advance commercial space transportation,” said company CEO Mark Sirangelo.

Now the hard part—but also the fun part—begins: turning these winning designs into real spacecraft.

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