The head of United Launch Alliance (ULA) would like to see NASA speed up the timetable for downselecting a company or companies to develop commercial crew systems, Florida Today reports. ULA CEO Michael Gass, speaking at a press conference Tuesday marking the joint venture’s fifth anniversary, noted that ULA has agreements with three commercial crew developers—Blue Origin, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada—to provide launch services for their proposed commercial crew vehicles. (Those companies account for three of the four firms with funded second-round Commercial Crew Development, or CCDev-2, awards from NASA; SpaceX, which proposes to use its own Falcon 9 rocket, is the fourth.) While those agreements would appear to be ringing endorsements of ULA’s launch capabilities, Gass said it hinders ULA from taking steps to support any single company, including investing in them.
“Why would you continue to invest when one of three of your investments could only be the potential winner?” Gass asked, according to the report. He added it would be “helpful” if NASA made a decision earlier on the vehicle or vehicles it will support full-fledged development of. Gass was also critical of the limited funding provided for the program in FY 2012, with its original request of $850 million cut by more than half to $406 million. “We talk about wanting to close the gap and not be dependent on foreign sources only, but then we don’t fully fund the capability.”
At least some in Congress support the desire of Gass to speed up a vehicle decision. Language in the conference report for the final FY12 “minibus” appropriations bill suggested that NASA consider “an accelerated down-select process that would concentrate and maximize the impact of each appropriated dollar.” NASA has not indicated any changes in their commercial crew development plans, although NASA administrator Charles Bolden said Monday they agency was studying “the most effective and efficient way we can bring it into being” without going into greater detail.