NASA Gains Breathing Room On Commercial Crew Program

NASA has negotiated a continuation of its successful Space Acts Agreements (SAA) procedures for contracting and funding of the next phase of its Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The SAA has also been the process for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), which saw the flight of the SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) with cargo, and its return with science experiments and no longer needed space station equipment.

The deal, worked out between NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee, Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va), will allow NASA to select 2.5 partners under the CCP using SAA rather than the more restrictive and cumbersome Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Wolf’s statement on his website was followed by a letter from Bolden.

The agreement allows the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of CCP to proceed under SAA rules, but then commits NASA to using FAR procedures for certification and procurement of services.

There was also agreement to fund the program at the Senate level of $525 million, although Bolden in his letter urged the conference committee to fund the CCP at a higher level for 2013. The Administration had originally requested $836 million.

Contenders in the Commercial Crew arena include:

  • Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – SpaceX – Dragon
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation – SNC – Dream Chaser
  • Boeing – CST-100
  • Blue Origin – New Shepherd

CCDev2 – Boeing

Boeing CST-100
Image Credit: Boeing

NASA announced the second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

Boeing was the big winner in CCDev-2, getting $92.3 million, on top of the $18 million it won last year.

The initial $18 million allowed Boeing to complete several risk reduction demonstrations and a System Definition Review (SDR) in October, 2010. The CST-100’s system characteristics and configuration were base-lined. Boeing designed, built and tested a pressurized structure of the crew module. It also developed an avionics systems integration facility to support rapid prototyping and full-scale development.

Boeing notes that the CST-100 spacecraft relies on proven materials and subsystem technologies that are safe and affordable.

Plans include ferrying astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as crew and passengers to the Space Station being proposed by Bigelow Aerospace. The CST-100 is designed to carry up to seven passengers and is designed to be launched by a number of different expendable launch vehicles. These include United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 and Atlas 5, Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9, and the European Ariane 5.

NASA’s new 14-month CCDev-2 Space Act Agreement will enable Boeing to further mature its system to a Preliminary Design Review (PDR), a critical step that ensures the system design meets all requirements.