NASA offers $50 million for commercial crew development

A month ago it appeared that pressure from Sen. Richard Shelby would force NASA to redirect most of the $150 million in stimulus funds planned for commercial crew work to Constellation instead, after the Alabama Republican strongly opposed the plan, saying the money should be spent on trying to reduce (if by only a tiny amount) the gap between the shuttle’s retirement and Constellation’s introduction. (Assuming, of course, that something like the current plan remains going forward; no sure thing these days.) That plan was confirmed this week when NASA released a solicitation for “to stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities” that offers $50 million in stimulus funds. This Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) activity will result in “multiple” funded Space Act Agreements to be awarded by November.

While the $50 million is only a third of what NASA originally planned to invest in commercial human spaceflight work, the industry put a good face on the compromise. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation called CCDev “a new milestone in the development of an orbital commercial human spaceflight sector” in a statement this week. However, how useful will $50 million be towards developing that capability, especially if it will be split among two or more companies?

2 comments to NASA offers $50 million for commercial crew development

  • looking for real work

    Does anyone know if this $50 million is the total commercial got in the deal? It looks like there was only $80 million for this activity to begin with. Did eveything else drop out or have the details not come up yet?

    I read somewhere else this was the plan at first:

    “That recommendation played a supporting role in a debate on Capitol Hill last week about NASA’s support of COTS and commercial ISS resupply efforts. NASA earlier announced it was putting $150 million of stimulus funding towards commercial ISS crew transportation: $70 million to develop general capabilities, including human rating requirements for commercial vehicles (the lack of which was cited in the ASAP report) and $80 million “to stimulate activity for commercial crew”, as acting administrator Chris Scolese explained last week during a hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee.”

  • In a way, I think this is good. The end result needs to be more than just wiring SpaceX money to exercise their COTS-D option. SpaceX is the farthest along, but it really would be best if there were at least 1-2 other competitors able to also provide the services, so there can be real competition and resiliency. Unlike the cargo only COTS option, the ability to haul people safely to/from orbit is a service with customers beyond NASA and the ISS, so the market should be able to sustain at least a few healthy players. So, I’m personally not too displeased that they’re funding some low-level work with a couple of groups. This allows them to cut their teeth on the project and demonstrate that they know how to retire risk. Also, by showing some visible progress (which t/Space for instance demonstrated could be done for little money during the CE&R work under Steidle), it may make it easier to get real funding from Congress next year.


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