NASA ‘Space Taxi’ To Take Flight

on October 13, 2011 at 11:35 AM

American astronauts are deep in training for future missions, but with the space shuttles retired, they’re currently relying on Russia for transportation.

That’s about to change.

Dream Chaser, one of four “space taxis” being developed by private industry with support from NASA, will make an unmanned, high-altitude test flight next summer, Reuters has reported. The seven-seat space plane dubbed “Dream Chaser” will eventually ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

Developed by Sierra Nevada Corp., the vehicle resembles a miniature space shuttle and is one of four space taxis being developed by private industry with backing from the U.S. government.

The test flight was added after privately held Sierra Nevada got a $25.6-million boost to its existing $80 million contract with NASA.

The plans reflect NASA’s plans to move forward despite retired space shuttles and recent downsizing affecting thousands of contractors and employees at the Kennedy Space Center. With an $18.7 billion budget, the agency is working toward new ways to explore the universe.

The administration’s 2012 budget request for NASA calls for partnerships with the commercial space industry to create thousands of new jobs to provide transportation for cargo and astronauts flying to and from the Space Station. In addition to Sierra Nevada, NASA is funding spaceship development work at Boeing Co., Space Exploration Technologies, and Blue Origin, a start-up firm owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, according to Reuters.

Even with budget cutbacks and austere times on the horizon, NASA’s committed to developing technologies for human exploration of the solar system, including solar electric propulsion, refueling depots in orbit, radiation protection and high-reliability life support systems. Spaceships that can break free of the Earth’s orbit, go to the Moon, an asteroid or even Mars are also in development.

NASA’s current dependence on Russia to fly astronauts to the space station costs more than $50 million per person. The agency hopes to turn over crew transportation services to one or more commercial firms before the end of 2016, according to the Reuters report.