Congress has twisted NASA's arm on a new deal for the "Commercial Crew Program," designed to get private spaceflight companies to ferry astronauts into space.
Senator Representative Frank Wolf wants NASA to scale back its grants to four companies: SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada down to two, while a third gets a retainer in case one of those chosen pair fails. The administration will be examining the financial health and business viability of each company before doling out the cash -- with one of those named above effectively being shut out of the market. Although, we imagine SpaceX did itself no harm at all when it became the first commercial enterprise to get a capsule to the ISS.
WOLF STATEMENT ON FUTURE OF COMMERCIAL CREW PROGRAM
Washington, D.C. (June 5, 2012) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee, today released the following statement regarding his agreement with NASA on the future of the commercial crew program:
As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, I want to see America continue to be the world leader in exploration and spaceflight. Our country needs an exceptional program to return American astronauts to the moon, and ultimately beyond. Space is the ultimate 'high ground' for a nation and will play an increasingly critical role in our national security and economic growth in the 21st Century.
Given recent advances in space capabilities by foreign competitors, it is essential that the U.S. move quickly to restore its domestic crew access to the International Space Station (ISS) and focus on the successful completion of our unique exploration systems, including the Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle. During this current "gap" in U.S. access to both low earth orbit and beyond, it is imperative that NASA focus its limited resources on these critical human spaceflight missions.
For these reasons, I have had serious concerns about NASA's management of the commercial crew program over the last two years. That is why I included language in the report accompanying the fiscal year 2013 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill, H.R. 5326, to address these concerns and direct a new management paradigm for the program. I remain convinced that the approach outlined in the committee's report is the most appropriate way forward for the program.
However, in an effort to prevent any disruption in the development of crew vehicles to return U.S. astronauts to ISS as quickly as possible, I have reached an understanding with NASA Administrator Bolden in an exchange of letters that will allow the upcoming Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase to proceed under a revised, more limited management roadmap and with an fiscal year 2013 funding level at or near the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved amount.
As part of this understanding, NASA and the committee have affirmed that the primary objective of the commercial crew program is achieving the fastest, safest and most cost-effective means of domestic access to the ISS, not the creation of a commercial crew industry.
Additionally, NASA has stated that it will reduce the number of awards anticipated to be made this summer from the 4 awards made under commercial crew development round 2 to not more than 2.5 (two full and one partial) CCiCAP awards. This downselect will reduce taxpayer exposure by concentrating funds on those participants who are most likely to be chosen to eventually provide service to ISS.
NASA also has stated that, after the CCiCAP phase, future program funding will only come in the form of FAR-based certification and service contracts. Further, to help prevent a problematic logistical "choke point" at the beginning of the certification phase, NASA will also produce an important new procurement strategy for awarding these FAR-based contracts, which will be substantively complete prior to the awarding of CCiCAP funds.
Finally, NASA has specified that it will vet commercial crew participants' financial health and viability before providing CCiCAP funds and ensure the government's "first right of refusal" to acquire property developed under or acquired as part of the commercial crew program at a price that reflects the taxpayers' existing investment in its development.
Should any of NASA's plans and intentions change from what was agreed to in the exchange of letters, I will reevaluate the situation. I will continue to follow up with NASA to monitor the implementation of these understandings in fiscal year 2012 – both through committee actions and through appropriate outside oversight – and to ensure that these principles are reflected in any final appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2013.