If the House’s version of NASA’s budget passes, Administrator Charles Bolden would have 60 days to report back to Congress with five distinct strategies for the final stages of Commercial Crew Program.
Four strategies would be pegged to annual funding levels of $500 million to $800 million over three fiscal years. The fifth option would be one not previously considered that NASA believes is viable and will reduce overall costs.
According to the funding measure, the options would include:
“(A) a strategy that assumes an appropriation of $500,000,000 over the next 3 fiscal years;
“(B) a strategy that assumes an appropriation of $600,000,000 over the next 3 fiscal years;
“(C) a strategy that assumes an appropriation of $700,000,000 over the next 3 fiscal years;
“(D) a strategy that assumes an appropriation of $800,000,000 over the next 3 fiscal years; and
“(E) a strategy that has yet to be considered previously in any budget submission but that the Administration believes could ensure the flight readiness date of 2017 for at least one provider or significantly decreases the overall program lifecycle cost.”
The Commercial Crew Program would receive $700 annually for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 under the budget approved by the House Subcommittee on Space last week.
The measure requires that “each strategy shall include the contracting instruments the Administration will employ to acquire the services in each phase of development or acquisition, the number of commercial providers the Administration will include in the program, and the estimated flight readiness date in each scenario.”
Assuming that Congress actually passes a budget by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, the report would be due no later than the end of November. This would require NASA to publicly lay out its plan for the rest of the program before the current round of commercial crew funding ends in May.
How much uncertainty will exist in these strategies is an interesting question. NASA will have a much better sense of the statuses and flight readiness dates of the three crew vehicles being developed by Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX next year than it will in November.
Based on those results, the agency also will have a better idea of what systems it wants to continue funding and how much they will cost. NASA would like to fund at least two crew vehicles to completion. Congress has been skeptical that there is a viable market for more than one provider.
The measure sets a Dec. 31, 2017, deadline for flight readiness demonstrations under which one or more crew providers transport U.S. astronauts safely to the International Space Station.
The bill requires NASA to use Federal Acquisition Regulation contracts in the future for Commercial Crew acquisition and development and the Certification Products Contract.
NASA must also comply with provisions in the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s 2012 Annual Report (ASAP). Bolden can deviate from the ASAP report if he deems it necessary, but he must inform ASAP and the relevant Congressional committee in writing prior to doing so.