Thursday, December 15, 2011

NASA Changes Crew Transport Development Funding

NASA has changed their funding processes in the development of a new commercial crew transport system to hold off on the need to drop competing firms due to a sharp reduction in their 2012 budget request.
Instead of issuing a formal Request for Proposals next week, which would have led to the space agency signing a contract by June with at least two private aerospace developers, NASA will now enter into Space Act agreements to continue to foster other potential crew transport systems.
A NASA Associate Administrator told that the change stems from reduced funding, and the difficulties of entering into a fixed price contract in light of reduced funding for the development process:

NASA's Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said due to funding uncertainties, “it is really tough to lock into a firm fixed price contract with the number of providers that can keep us moving forward.
NASA received $406 million for its commercial crew program in 2012, significantly less than the amount President Barack Obama had asked for. If the agency had continued with its original plan for a formal contract, the uncertainty over funding - particularly in future years - could have: limited the number of companies selected or forced the contract to be repeatedly renegotiated based on funding changes.
The Space Act allows NASA "to carry more providers through this period," Gerstenmaier said. "We would like to carry two providers as a minimum or actually more. ... We think competition is a key piece."
NASA used a Space Act agreement for its commercial cargo program, and originally the private companies vying to win the commercial crew contract urged NASA to continue this. However, NASA argued that contracts allow the agency greater control and greater involvement in dictating what kind of system it needs.
Gerstenmaier said the agency still believed that was the case. Under a Space Act, "there is some potential risk at the end of this doesn't ensure we get exactly what we need coming out the other side." But he said it was the best case scenario due to the funding uncertainty, and noted the companies have seen NASA's requirements so they know what the agency is looking for.
Gerstenmaier also confirmed that they were now looking at a launch in 2017 - a year later than initially planned.

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