There has been a lot of talk (even in Aviation Week) about somehow extending the life of the shuttles until Orion is ready, or pushing the Russians into better contract terms. Maybe the Obama administration will go for the big expense of shuttle refurbishment and talk the congresscritters into it, maybe not. With much less fanfare, NASA awarded two contracts last week – one to Orbital Sciences Corporation, and one to SpaceX. They will provide cargo delivery to the ISS starting in 2010.
2010? You mean, like, a year from now? The SpaceX Falcon 9 booster hasn’t flown yet (although the first flight article is in Florida, waiting to be assembled in January), and I can’t tell from the SpaceX site if the Dragon is even out of boilerplate. Orbital’s hardware seems either further out. Their Taurus II launch vehicle is listed as being in the “early stages of development.”
It is a gutsy move by NASA, or desperation? I hope it’s gutsy, or at least that they know a lot more about the status of the projects by each of these companies than they are publishing for the general public. That could easily be the case, I suppose.
I’ve been a supporter of SpaceX since the beginning. I argued that the government was making it too difficult for them to break into the commercial space business by requiring them to test launch the Falcon 1 from the South Pacific – delivery of LOX alone was a major problem and it most likely doubled the time in their test schedule so far. Now maybe something has changed…like the Russians playing games in their part of the world, or the Orion program has a few more development problems.