House, NASA Reach Compromise on Future Commercial Crew Transportation Services
NASA and House appropriators have struck a compromise on the future of the space agency’s commercial crew transportation initiative.
The deal with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, announced on Tuesday by U. S. Rep. Frank Wolf, chair of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee, is intended to ensure a U. S. capability to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.
Russiahas been the sole source of human access to the orbiting science laboratory since the final space shuttle mission in mid-2011.
The deal permits NASA to fund at least two U. S.companies in the agency’s efforts to foster a commercial orbital transportation system for astronauts. Under a previous measure, the panel directed NASA to down select from four companies currently involved in the effort to one and a possible “follower.”
NASA had forecast the start of competing commercial orbital transportation services by 2017 from either Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada or Blue Origin. The program also counts unfunded commercial participants, though they, too, are contending for future NASA funding under a third NASA development cycle called the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase.
NASA, which expects to announce CCiCAP selections later this year, has been hobbled by tight budgets. In its 2013 NASA budget submittal, the White House sought $836 million for the commercial crew transportation effort next year. The House trimmed the request to $500 million and the Senate to $525 million.
Wolf’s compromise would permit the 2013 amount to grow to $525 million.
Since the initial congressional deliberations, SpaceX became the first U. S.commercial company to carry out a re-supply mission to station under NASA’s six-year-old Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. The nine day SpaceX mission drew to a successful conclusion on May 31.
“As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, I want to see America continue to be the world leader in exploration and spaceflight,” Wolf said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “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.”
In a letter confirming NASA’s intentions, agency administrator Charles Bolden wrote, “NASA is working to ensure that we end our reliance on foreign crew transportation
to the International Space Station and utilize safe, cost effective U. S. crew transportation capabilities as soon as we are able to certify those system to carry NASA astronauts.”
While commercial companies take over the cargo and crew missions to the space station, NASA is developing the Space Launch System and Orion/Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The big rocket and four person spacecraft will be designed to start U. S. human explorers on missions to asteroids and eventually Mars under currentU. S.space policy.
The 2013 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.