NewSpace 2011: Orbital Spaceflight and Beyond

A Boeing CST-100 crew module docks at a Bigelow Aerospace space station. (Credit: Boeing)


  • Dennis Stone: Manager, Program Integration, NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Program


  • Brent Jett — Deputy Manager, NASA CCDev (JSC)
  • Garrett Reisman — Project Manager for CCDev 2, SpaceX
  • Mark Sirangelo — Chairman, Sierra Nevada Space Systems
  • Gerard Szatkowski — SmallSat Project Manager, United Launch Alliance

 Brent Jett

  • There is a lot of angst in the community concerning contracting setup for CCDev 3 and beyond
  • Agrees with Lori Garver comment — keep our feet to the fire
  • Some people feel that Space Act Agreement is the ONLY way to do commercial crew; others feel that a cost-plus contract is the only way to assure crew and mission safety
  • lawyers are telling them what the can and can’t do
  • Committed to minimizing overhead, using fixed payments and incentives, etc.
  • The key to being successful is not the type of contracting agreement used
  • The key is to control requirements, costs, etc.
  • What we really need is money and support from Congress and the Executive Branch. We know we have it from the Executive Branch, but support in Congress depends upon who you talk to
  • House Markup bill — flat at $312 million — only about 1/10 of amount spent on SLS and Orion Multiple Crew Vehicle
  • If that number holds, it will be very challenging to maintain multiple partners and reach goal of flying people by mid-2010s
  • “At some point we’re going to have to spend more than a couple of hundred million per year” to get to orbital flights
  • Partners (Sierra Nevada, Boeing, etc.) want to fly quicker than NASA has the money to spend — NASA budget for commercial crew is a limiting factor.

 Garrett Reisman

  • The buzz around STS-135 launch (final shuttle flight) was all doomy and gloomy
  • Believes we’re on the edge of a golden age for space marked by commercial innovation
  • if we F-up the commercial crew effort, then all that doomy and gloomy stuff will be true
  • need to find a way to make it work or the U.S. will no longer be a human space-faring nation
  • House bill ($312 million for commercial crew) is less than 2 percent of NASA’s total budget — for people worried about U.S. leadership in space, why not provide more funds?
  • NASA and industry are communicating on requirements and contracting matters — confident that they will find a way forward — need to find the funds for it
  • We have the technology to do this
  • When he first went to SpaceX, was “blown away” by the capability the company has to produce rockets
  • SpaceX had conceptual design review on escape system just two days ago. Will have a PDR in September.
  • Our vice presidents are purely technical, leading an incredibly enthusiastic group of young engineers who are having the time of their lives

Mark Sirangelo
Sierra Nevada Space Systems

  • The House bill ($312 million for commercial crew) was actually a good thing — last year they tried to zero out the budget entirely….
  • now have a floor of $312 million and a ceiling of $850 million (President’s budget)
  • Confident that they will get there…
  • His view is that the issues concerning contracting methods will be resolved
  • NASA is our partner — we are privileged to be given funding to go do this
  • Bigger issue — making sure we have enough money to make this happen

Gerard Szatkowski
United Launch Alliance

  • Need to human rate the Atlas V and Delta IV vehicles
  • We don’t see this as a great technology problem, it’s straight forward engineering
  • ULA Rideshare Capabilities — secondary payloads program for low-cost access to space
  • can do suborbital, orbital and Earth escape (lunar-type) missions


Q. Govt. is the primary customer and investor for COTS, CCDev, anchor tenancy, etc. How do we get from that to a more fully-commercial environment in LEO?

Szatkowski: Lowering the recurring costs. Producing payloads that are already contained so get costs down for ULA.

Reisman:  It is a partnership. NASA is a great source of expertise in knowing what to do and what not to do. COTS is working great. This is happening. It’s very cost effective.  SpaceX has spent $800 million total since it was founded. With business as usual, would cost a lot more. For Falcon 9, would have cost $4 billion with traditional methods.

Brent Jett: NASA needs to set requirements but not get too much into design. Another key: other destinations in LEO. Bigelow has private space station plans. Partnerships on destinations in Earth orbit would be crucial.

Q: What are plans for recruiting commercial astronauts?

Reisman: My boss at SpaceX was my boss at NASA — astronaut Ken Bowersox. (Reisman is an ex-astronaut, too). Need to work out who will do initial flights. Will it be NASA astronauts? SpaceX astros? A combination of both? Those questions are still open now.

Sirangelo:  Agreed with Reisman on most of what he said. One model: take a page from the maritime industry.  Commercial companies take ships around the world, but there is a harbor master that bring the ships into port. Could be a mixed system blending NASA and private industry. Private companies launch vehicle, NASA docks it.

Q: Difference in paperwork, complexity between Space Act Agreements and Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) contract?

Sirangelo:  Under FAR, the complexities of joint partnership investments could become a problem. Thinks that can be worked out. Other issue: when NASA asks for a change in the vehicle. Need to be analyzed carefully. Where does the money come from under a fixed-price contract?  Other issue is time and cost of paying personnel.

One option: do CCDev 3 under Space Act Agreement leading to the final round being done under FAR.

Reisman:  We want to continue successful Space Act Agreement of fixed-price, milestone based program done for COTS and CCDev 1 and 2. There are a lot of accounting issues under FAR. NASA has said it would provide an exemption to cost accounting. Need to hire a lot of extra accountants. Big culture change at SpaceX; our people don’t fill out time cards. That saves us several man-days per person. Space Act Agreement might have a dozen requirements in that area; FAR might have 50. Need to hire people to make sure you are in compliance.

Made all of these concerns known to NASA people, who are working very hard to accommodate them.

Jett:  Can provide an exemption to cost accounting and work on other requirements. An SAA could meet the requirements for moving forward. However, if it doesn’t, then we will try to develop the most flexible approach to meet NASA’s needs and limit overhead and make the program feasible.