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?