NASA today announced the first round of contract awards
in an agency initiative to find a more affordable and reliable
highway into space. The Space Launch Initiative (SLI) is a
research and development effort designed to substantially
improve safety and reduce the high cost of space travel.

The studies initiated with these awards are not intended to
provide a specific vehicle design. This first step marks the
beginning of a process that will lead to the development of a
common set of alternative technologies that NASA will make
available to all U.S. companies. These cutting-edge
developments will be used for future government and commercial
launch systems and space transportation operations.

The SLI investment is expected to pay off with full-scale
spacecraft development options by mid-decade.

“A second-generation reusable launch vehicle will open up the
space frontier and significantly improve life on Earth,” said
Art Stephenson, director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight
Center, Huntsville, AL, which is leading the program.

“The Space Launch Initiative is a comprehensive R&D effort
that provides technology developments that dramatically
increase the safety, reliability and affordability of space
transportation systems,” Stephenson added. “Through this new
initiative, NASA’s mission requirements will be met more
efficiently, the U.S. launch industry can better compete in
the international launch market, and our nation’s leadership
in space will continue to grow in the new century.”

NASA first solicited proposals last fall and today awarded
contracts valued at $767 million dollars to 22 contractors,
including large and small companies, to allow maximum

The money will be used to develop concepts and the
technologies needed to pioneer this extraordinary effort,
which is expected to make the vehicle at least 10 times safer
and crew survivability 100 times greater, all at one-tenth the
cost of today’s space launch systems.

These leap-ahead technologies include crew survival systems,
advanced tanks and airframe structures, long-life rocket
engines and thermal protection systems.

“We’ve got a clean sheet of paper and a wide open
competition,” added Stephenson. ” The goal is to develop
technologies to enable a mid-decade decision regarding the
full-scale development of a versatile space transportation
system that can be used for both government and commercial

Nearly 300 experts throughout NASA, with technical support
from the Air Force Research Laboratory, evaluated numerous
proposals leading to this initial down-select and awards for
this first round of SLI contracts. The awards are for a 10-
month base period with options for one or more additional

The options enable NASA to measure performance on a yearly
basis to make sure the program’s ambitious goals are met. This
approach also allows for continued competition in key
technology areas and for NASA to take advantage of new
emerging technologies.

The planned budget for the Space Launch Initiative totals $4.8
billion through fiscal year 2006. Additional solicitations in
the fall of 2001 and 2002 will commit significant additional
funds to the effort.

All NASA’s field centers and the Air Force Research Laboratory
are actively participating in the Space Launch Initiative and
are vital to its success. The Marshall Space Flight Center is
NASA’s lead center for SLI. The Air Force Research Laboratory
includes research and development facilities at nine U.S. Air
Force bases.

Additional information on NASA’s Space Launch Initiative,
including a list of the selected contractors, is available on
the Internet at: