NASA is currently in a period of transition that goes beyond the retirement of the shuttle, end of Constellation (at least in its original incarnation), and introduction of elements of the agency’s new exploration strategy. While the NASA authorization bill passed by Congress late Wednesday night (and not yet signed into law by the president) gives the agency new policy direction, NASA is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that funds the agency at FY2010 levels, with a final appropriations bill not likely until late this calendar year.
That is not stopping NASA, though, from pressing ahead on some elements of its new strategy. “We anticipate doing a CCDev 2,” NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said in a telecon with reporters Thursday afternoon. referring to a second round of Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) awards. “We believe we’ll get a good healthy start in ’11″ assuming appropriators fund the program at similar levels to what’s authorized. And, in fact, late Friday NASA released a preliminary announcement about CCDev 2, which will support efforts “to further advance commercial crew space transportation system concepts and mature the design and development of elements of the system such as launch vehicles and spacecraft.” NASA expects to formally solicit proposals for Space Act Agreements under CCDev 2 around October 25, with multiple awards to be made by the following March. (October 25, coincidentally, is the beginning of the 2010 Commercial and Government Responsive Access to Space Technology Exchange conference at NASA Ames.)
Other programs, though, will be slower to develop. Because NASA is operating under a CR, it is still bound by language in the final FY10 appropriations bill that prevents NASA from terminating Constellation or starting up replacement efforts. “We are stil living under the appropriations language that we will not be terminating any contracts and, of course, can’t have any entirely new starts,” she said. “Those changes will have to wait until an approved appropriations bill.” However, she said that with the authorization bill eliminating the uncertainty about NASA’s future direction, it’s possible to reshape those continuing Constellation contracts. “We definitely feel now that we can direct them with more clarity from that bill.”
One other area that may be in flux in the near term is work on a heavy-lift launch vehicle, as directed in the bill. While the legislation is rather specific about the type of HLV NASA should develop, Garver said there may be some room to maneuver to keep other options open. “I think the trade space continues to be open on what type of vehicle we will have,” she said, adding that they may get “some additional guidance” from appropriators. “There’s still a lot of ability on the part of NASA to work with our stakeholders on what exactly is included in our new heavy lift launch vehicle.”