You might think, that as the most powerful country on Earth, as well as the world’s largest economy, the United States would have a way to get humans into space. The truth however is that since the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program, they have been relying on Russian craft to send NASA astronauts into space. Given recent geopolitical tensions with Russia, the US faces being completely locked out of space, should the situation further deteriorate.
In order to kickstart the private development of human-rated space vehicles in the US, NASA has been running their Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which awards funds to promising designs. Now however, the competition has come to a crunch, and NASA must decided which 1 design it will chose to be America’s next space vehicle. Below you can read about the three front running candidates:
1. Dragon (SpaceX)
SpaceX’s ‘Dragon’ capsule was unveiled to great fanfare earlier this year, and remains the frontrunner in terms of completed design for the CCDev competition. The spacecraft itself is in a traditional conical form factor, however, comes equipped with state of the art electronics, which give its interior a sci-fi feel. The craft will seat up to 7 astronauts for Low-Earth Orbit transfer, but is also capable of taking smaller numbers to places further afield, such as the Moon.
2. Dream Chaser (Sierra Nevada Corp.)
The Dream Chaser craft is perhaps the most unique of the 3 potential CCDev picks. It consists of a space plane which is not dissimilar for a shrunk down version of the original space shuttle. This being said, the similarities are only aesthetic, with the avionics and flight mechanisms greatly different. While the design is novel, this puts the Dream Chaser at a distinct disadvantage, as it cannot piggyback on tried and tested technology in the same way as its competitors.
3. CST 100 (Boeing)
Built by the same company that produces the 747 aircraft, the CST 100 is the military-industrial complex’s attempt to prove it is still relevant. The company has utilized its decades of partnership with NASA in order to build a craft which suits exactly what the space agency wants, and thus the end result is a plain-looking, but nonetheless high-tech cone. The downside however, is that this design is not well advanced, and could be subject to the notorious time and budget overruns which have given these kind of companies a bad name in the past.
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