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.