As the Senate continues to debate a 2012 funding bill that includes NASA, one key question is whether the Senate will provide any additional funds for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program above the $500 million currently in the legislation. In Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) earlier this week, the White House asked the Senate “to provide sufficient funding for the Commercial Crew Program”, without specifying what it considered specific. Now, a top NASA official warns that any savings from funding the program below the administration’s original request of $850 million would be offset by sending more money to Russia down the road.
Speaking at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Thursday, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver confirmed that NASA’s current plans for CCDev require $850 million in fiscal year 2012 in order to remain on track to have a domestic commercial crew transportation capability by the end of 2016. “If we don’t get full funding in 2012, this is at risk,” she warned.
A schedule slip, she said, would require spending more money on Russian crew transportation services. “One additional year of buying services from the Russians will cost the United States $450 million,” she said. Thus, she argued, it made more fiscal sense to spend an additional $350 million now—the difference between the Senate version and the administration’s request—on US companies than $450 million in mid-decade on Russian flight services. “Take it [the Senate mark] up $350 [million], giving it to US companies today, taking us up to the requested amount and giving us the best chance to be able to replace this foreign government service by 2016 while saving $450 million we would have to pay the Russians. That’s the choice.”
The Senate’s version of the 2012 appropriations bill is actually more generous to CCDev than the House version, which offers only $312 million for the program. If the House version were to pass, that could result is significant changes in NASA’s plans for the program. At a meeting of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) in Washington last Friday, Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters, said that if the agency received the $500 million in the Senate bill, it would likely proceed with the next round of the program, the Integrated Design Phase, although perhaps with some changes. “At the very macro level, $500 [million] is going to have an impact,” he said. “There are some ways you can see that we could move forward.” At the lower House level, though, he said, “we’d most likely pull the draft RFP” for the next CCDev phase. “We would revisit our acquisition approach at 312.”
“The less money you get,” he concluded, “the longer it’s going to take. The longer it takes, the more money it takes.”