There's another approaching train wreck with the Orion Crew Rescue Vehicle, or "lifeboat" as it is starting to be called. For a start, Lockheed Martin is saying it will cost $4.5 billion to develop.. others are saying more like $6 billion and it won't be ready until 2013.. others are saying 2015. For comparison, that's 9 to 12 times as much as SpaceX has spent on everything that they have done. There's no word yet on how much each Orion Lifeboat will actually cost or what it will be launched on.
Orbital Sciences has smelled the blood in the water and is attacking. They think they can do it for cheaper.. no word on faster. Back in 2009, Elon Musk stood in front of the Augustine committee and suggested that his company SpaceX could deliver a lifeboat capability shortly after the first few cargo flights were completed.. that would most likely be early 2012. No price was given but it would most certainly be funded under COTS-D and that's only $300 million.
More importantly, no-one has made public statements of how long the endurance would be on these lifeboats. The original proposal for the Orion spacecraft called for an endurance of 210 days. The SpaceX DragonLab specifications indicate that version of the Dragon vehicle can stay on-orbit for 2 years. Orbital Sciences has yet to specify an endurance for their Cygnus spacecraft. The Sierra Nevada Dreamchaser may be available by 2014 but there's no word yet on its endurance. The Boeing capsule CST-100 will not be designed to stay in space for long periods of time ruling it out of the lifeboat competition. This means they'll have to rely on someone else's lifeboat if they're going to carry long duration crews to the ISS, but there's plenty of short duration missions that a cost effective vehicle could do.
To me, the primary data point for evaluating a lifeboat is how long it can stay on-orbit. The Soyuz is the best lifeboat available and has a 6 month endurance. The Shuttle can't operate as a lifeboat at all, with a mere 14 day endurance. If SpaceX can really beat the Soyuz by 18 months that's a massive enabling capability for full utilization of the International Space Station and should be brought online as soon as possible. If the Orion Lifeboat can only beat the Soyuz by 1 month is that worth $4.5 billion?