Today and tomorrow, NASA and industry officials will be meeting at the Kennedy Space Center to discuss a draft request for proposals (RFP) for the next phase of the commercial crew program. The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability, or CCtCap, contract will cover the development and test of crew transportation systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). It will also, unlike previous phases of the program, use a contract that follows the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) rather than Space Act Agreements.
Although NASA is shifting to FAR-based contracts, one NASA official hopes to maintain the spirit of partnerships between NASA and industry in earlier phases of the program. “We will want this to be a partnership,” Phil McAlister said in a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) committee on Tuesday. “Even though we’re entering into a contract, that does not preclude us from still being in a partnership mode. We still want cost-share, we still want them to own the intellectual property and to operate these systems.” Moving to a FAR-based contract, he said, does allow NASA to apply its requirements to the vehicles in order to certify them for transporting NASA astronauts.
How many companies will go forward from the ongoing CCiCap program to the new CCtCap program remains to be seen, and depends on program funding. McAlister, like other NASA officials, emphasized the need to maintain competition. “I see prematurely eliminating competition as one of the primary risks,” he said. “We really do not want to do that.” A premature downselect, he argued, threatened the ability of the effort to develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective systems. “I believe competition supports all three of those simultaneously,” he said.
McAlister, though, did suggest that there would likely be a downselect from the three companies that currently have funded CCiCap awards to those who get CCtCap contracts. “I don’t know if we can carry three,” he said. “I think two would probably be sufficient to maintain the benefits of competition.” That’s in line with previous speculation about NASA’s plans for the future of commercial crew.
That belief, though, clashed with some members of the NAC HEO committee, who expressed concern that limited funding could keep NASA from having a commercial crew system ready by 2017, extending reliance on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. At the full NAC meeting Wednesday, Richard Kohrs, chairman of the HEO committee, offered a recommendation that NASA make schedule a top priority for the program. “You really ought to go pick a schedule and a fixed date,” he said. “You ought to pick a schedule and stick to it as best you can.”
Although NASA administrator Charles Bolden has previously said the 2017 date would be in jeopardy if the program got less than the $821 million requested by the administration in fiscal year 2014, McAlister said the specific impact to the program if it received closer to $500 million remained to be seen. “It would be up to NASA to decide what was in the best interest of the government: either to downselect or to slip schedule or to make some other change to the program,” he said. “All those things are in play.”