NASA has awarded a collective grant worth $1.1bn to Boeing, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Sierra Nevada for the design and development of a next generation manned spacecraft.
Awarded as part of the commercial crew integrated capability (CCiCap) initiative, the funds are aimed at developing a successor to the retired space shuttle programme and offer a domestic alternative to the currently used Russian-made Soyuz rockets.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said: "We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country."
The $460m funding awarded to Boeing will assist in completing the development of its CST-100 space capsule and further establish the integrated system, which includes the spacecraft, launch services and ground systems, as well as preparation for its certification and operations.
Boeing's seven-person space capsule is expected to make its debut test flight aboard the Atlas launcher in 2016.
Spacex has received $440m funding to make final developments to its seven seat Dragon spacecraft to prepare it for safe transport of astronauts into space, with the scheduled first test launch in 2015.
NASA has awarded $212.5m in grants to Sierra Nevada, allowing the company to complete development of Dream Chaser, a mini-shuttle crew vehicle, which can be flown without a pilot and is expected to make its debut space flight before 2016.
As part of NASA's commercial crew programme (CCP), the CCiCAP agreements allow the companies to develop crew transportation capabilities into fully integrated systems.
According to NASA, the agency's partners will perform tests and mature integrated designs until 31 May 2014, further setting the stage for a future programme that will launch crewed orbital missions to low-Earth orbit by the middle of the decade.
NASA is also developing the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Space Launch System (SLS), which are expected to expand human presence further afield than low-Earth orbit and allow new exploration missions across the solar system.
Image: The Dream Chaser is being developed for NASA to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. Photo: courtesy of Sierra Nevada (SNC).