It appears to be a significant step forward for the aerospace company, which has been around for 25 years, but has previously focused on smaller ventures. The company has produced small satellites, components for projects such as the Mars Science Laboratory, and rocket motors, including motors for Burt Rutan's Spaceship One and its tourist version for Virgin Galactic, Spaceship Two.
The goal of the NASA commercial crew-transportation program is to free up NASA resources to focus on human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. That means turning to private companies to build a spacecraft to service the space station, which also should help lay the foundation for a broader commercial human-spaceflight industry, advocates of commercialization say.
Last July, the agency divvied up contracts worth a combined $1.1 billion among three companies working on designs – Boeing, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), and Sierra Nevada Corp. In December, NASA parceled another $29.6 million among the companies for parallel efforts that focus on meeting its performance and safety requirements.