NASA

Commercialization becomes essential

Since Michael Griffin became NASA administrator a few months ago we have seen a gradual change in the agency’s position on the role of commercial entities in carrying out the VSE. Griffin initially said he was open to it, but noted in early May that he did not want to get into a position where the agency had to rely on commercial contracts to carry out the vision: “I cannot put public money at risk depending on a commercial provider to be in my critical path.” Last month, Griffin said he wanted to press ahead with commercial ISS resupply services—cargo initially, later extending to crews—to free up resources elsewhere.

Yesterday, though, NASA raised its commitment to commercialization even higher. Speaking at the Return to the Moon conference, NASA’s Chris Shank made it very clear: “We’ve run the budget and we can’t afford to do this with a traditional approach.” A non-traditional approach, he explained, will put a far greater emphasis on commercialization, including ISS crew and cargo and perhaps other opportunities, such as purchasing launch services for the CEV. Later in the day, NASA’s Brant Sponberg unveiled the agency’s new Innovative Programs effort, which includes a mix of service procurements, other transaction authority, and prize competitions.

Michael Mealling has been blogging the conference at Rocketforge; his posts on Friday’s sessions and Innovative Programs in particular offer plenty of details. I’ll have more to say on this in the next couple of days.

5 comments to Commercialization becomes essential

  • Space station resupply isn’t on the critical path. No excuse to circumvent the Commercial Space Act there…

    ” (a) IN GENERAL- Except as otherwise provided in this section, the Federal Government shall acquire space transportation services from United States commercial providers whenever such services are required in the course of its activities. To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers.

    (b) EXCEPTIONS- The Federal Government shall not be required to acquire space transportation services under subsection (a) if, on a case-by-case basis, the Administrator or, in the case of a national security issue, the Secretary of the Air Force, determines that–

    (1) a payload requires the unique capabilities of the Space Shuttle;

    (2) cost effective space transportation services that meet specific mission requirements would not be reasonably available from United States commercial providers when required;

    (3) the use of space transportation services from United States commercial providers poses an unacceptable risk of loss of a unique scientific opportunity;

    (4) the use of space transportation services from United States commercial providers is inconsistent with national security objectives;

    (5) the use of space transportation services from United States commercial providers is inconsistent with international agreements for international collaborative efforts relating to science and technology;

    (6) it is more cost effective to transport a payload in conjunction with a test or demonstration of a space transportation vehicle owned by the Federal Government; or

    (7) a payload can make use of the available cargo space on a Space Shuttle mission as a secondary payload, and such payload is consistent with the requirements of research, development, demonstration, scientific, commercial, and educational programs authorized by the Administrator.

    Nothing in this section shall prevent the Administrator from planning or negotiating agreements with foreign entities for the launch of Federal Government payloads for international collaborative efforts relating to science and technology.”

  • Brad

    Cutting the Gordian Knot

    Finally! So NASA gives in to commercialization to solve it’s budgetary Gordian Knot.

    As recent news leaked out I wondered how NASA planned to pay for VSE since the choices NASA seemed to take didn’t add up. The old O’Keefe plan stretched VSE out into the future to squeeze it within the constraints of the NASA budget. The rumored Griffin plan was speeding everything up instead. How could NASA afford HLV and CEV development while simultaneously running the Shuttle program and finishing the International Space Station?

    At first I thought the rumored phased retirement of the STS and partial completion of the ISS was the way NASA could afford it. But I imagine even those measures still didn’t save enough for NASA to pay for the Griffin plan. Good for NASA for giving in to reality. Go Alt-Space!

  • Paul Dietz

    Good god. Can it really be that NASA is bowing to reality here? Maybe VSE has a chance of moving things forward after all.

  • Allen Thomson

    > NASA’s Chris Shank made it very clear: “We’ve run the budget and we can’t afford to do this with a traditional approach.”

    The details of that running of the budget would be very interesting to know; are they available?

    Just how much traditional shortfall are non-traditional means going to have to make up, and when?

    Also, what is the antecedent of “this?” RTTM + ISS/STS? RTTM by itself? One or the other of those plus robotic missions to Mars? Something else?

  • If this actually happens, I consider it unambiguously good news. Even if the VSE, per se, fails, commercial supply of the Space Station and other LEO infrastructure could lead to great things down the road.

    – Donald