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NASA is awarding $269.3 million to four companies that plan to work on new spaceships capable of ferrying astronauts into orbit. The money is going to Blue Origin, the Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX.

The awards, ranging from $22 million to $92.3 million, are aimed at supporting the development of private-sector space transportation systems that will help fill the gap left by this year's expected retirement of the space shuttle fleet. This is the second phase of the Commercial Crew Development program, also known as CCDev2. Last year, $50 million was awarded

for the first phase of the program, and NASA is asking for another $850 million to cover a third phase.

Philip McAlister, acting director of NASA Headquarters' Commercial Spaceflight Development program, told journalists today during a teleconference that the $269.3 million in CCDev2 funding would be doled out as companies achieved milestones laid out between now and May 2012. It will take more time and money, however, to get the private-sector spaceships into service.

"We are targeting the middle part of this decade to hopefully have services available for purchase," McAlister said.

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Category: Science