WASHINGTON — NASA expects to award roughly $270 million April 6 to multiple contractors seeking to refine designs for launchers and spacecraft that would transport astronauts to and from low Earth orbit on a commercial basis, according to government and industry sources.

The space agency is still awaiting congressional action on its 2011 budget request, which proposed spending $500 million on commercial crew initiatives this year. Absent a congressional appropriation in the current budget year, however, NASA announced in October that it expected to award just $200 million in its second round of Commercial Crew Development (CCDev 2) agreements this spring.

With the latest in a series of stopgap spending measures designed to keep the federal government operating set to expire April 8, the budget picture remains unclear. However, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law in October, recommended appropriating $312 million for commercial crew efforts in 2011, providing a level of support for upping the ante on the CCDev 2 awards, industry and government sources said.

NASA in February contacted eight companies that had submitted bids for CCDev 2 money: Alliant Techsystems, Blue Origin, Boeing, Excalibur Almaz, Orbital Sciences Corp., Sierra Nevada Corp., Space Exploration Technologies and United Launch Alliance. The companies were invited to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to discuss the proposals they submitted in December.

NASA is expected to name at least four winners in the latest round of CCDev 2 agreements, according to industry sources.

NASA started the CCDev program in 2009 with $50 million in seed money awarded to a mix of five new and established aerospace firms including Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada and United Launch Alliance. The companies used the funding to refine technologies in support of Obama’s plan to nurture a private market for transporting astronauts to low Earth orbit.



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