Space Act Agreement Favored for Next Round of Commercial Crew Program

NASA has announced that it will scrap plans to release Request for Proposals or RFP in favor of Space Act Agreements. Photo Credit: NASA/Jim Grossman

NASA announced today that it will modify a competitive procurement strategy for the Commercial Crew Program. It is hoped that this latest modification will help private companies to develop launch services that will develop a transportation system capable of carrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). 

NASA had been mulling over issuing a Request for Proposal or RFP for the Commercial Crew Integrated Design contract. However, the U.S. space agency has opted instead to utilize Space Act Agreements (SAA) for the next phase of this program. 

These Space Act Agreements will be competitively awarded. By conducting the selection process in this manner the agency is hoping to have more partners involved with the program. This should give NASA greater flexibility to adjust direction, milestones and funding as needed. 

“Ultimately our goal is to get a commercial crew capability as soon as possible as we can for the ISS,” said NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate William Gerstenmaier. “We think that in this current environment with our budget and other activities and things that are changing around we think a space act allows us to make significant progress during this period and continue us on the way to eventually gaining that commercial crew capability for the ISS.”

An artist's concept of the New Shepard spacecraft currently being developed by Blue Origin for the Commercial Crew Development program. Image Credit: NASA


NASA also announced that the time when it will regain the ability to launch astronauts on its own has slipped from 2016 to 2017. This means that more seats on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft will have to be purchased. At an estimated cost of $63 million a pop – NASA has powerful incentive to see that the emerging commercial market succeeds. 

The primary driving force in this decision was the budget. Under President Obama’s budget for NASA, the space agency was to receive $820 million that was allocated for commercial development. Congress slashed that, only providing $406 million. 

This next phase will not focus on demonstration of required technologies, but rather on overall system design. NASA stated in a press release that it is expecting to make an announcement regarding proposals during the first quarter of 2012. Once the agency is ready to enter into the certification phase – further competitively awarded contracts will be issued.

NASA has been working to adapt to budgetary constraints while still trying to encourage commercial space firms to develop space systems of their own. Image Credit:
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  1. Would the Space Act agreements be funded, unfunded, or some combination of both. Some companies received no CCDev2 funding, but were later awarded unfunded space act agreements. How will the money be delivered (or is the entire apace act agreement competition unfunded, with only the winner(s)getting NASA money?) NASA’s press release isn’t very clear on this issue.

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