Washington (DC) - Yesterday, NASA announced that it had awarded two resupply contracts for the International Space Station (ISS). The contracts went to two smaller firms rather than giants Lockheed Martin or Boeing. The $3.5 billion contracts account for 20 resupply missions before the year 2016 when NASA will presumably have its next-gen Ares I rocket fully in service (trials will continue through at least 2014).
Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, VA was awarded $1.9 billion for eight flights. Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, CA was awarded $1.6 billion for 12 flights. The contracts call for a "fixed-price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity" service ability. The Space Shuttle's last mission will be Endeavor and STS-133, which is scheduled for launch in 2010.
Each ISS delivery will bring a minimum of 20 metric tons of "upmass cargo" to the space station. Additional roles by the two firms will include analysis and "special tasks as the government determines are necessary," according to NASA.
SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk, who also founded PayPal. Musk's long-term goals for SpaceX are that humanity would become a true space-faring civilization. SpaceX has designs already in motion for a Falcon 9 rocket that is currently rated for up to 20K pounds of cargo capacity at an orbit roughly equal to that of ISS. This launch ability is roughly 9.1 metric tons, or less than half of that currently required by NASA. A newer Falcon 9 Heavy rocket is shown also, though with fewer public details. SpaceX lists the price of various missions around $100 million each.
Recently, NASA agreed to pay the Russian space program $141 million for resupplying ISS via Soyuz rocket launches.