ASAP: Inadequate Commercial Crew Funding Risking Unacceptable Safety Compromises

Commercial Crew Program Funding


On the same day that NASA and its commercial partners held a press conference to highlight progress in the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), the space agency’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released a report spotlighting worries about chronic Congressional underfunding of the program will lead to decisions that diminish safety standards for the new spacecraft.

“The ASAP is concerned that some will champion an approach that is a current option contained in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement. There is risk this optional, orbital flight-test demonstration with a non-NASA crew could yield two standards of safety—one reflecting NASA requirements, and one with a higher risk set of commercial requirements. It also raises questions of who acts as certification authority and what differentiates public from private accountability,” wrote ASAP Chairman Joseph W. Dyer in the report’s cover letter.


ASAP: Commercial Crew Program at Risk From Inadequate Budget, Oversight

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) believes that NASA’s commercial crew program is at risk from inadequate funding and the space agency’s decision budget-based decision to use less intrusive Space Act Agreements (SAA) to oversee the work of developing vehicles to replace the retired space shuttle.

“It appears to the ASAP that the fiscal year (FY) 2012 funding level approved by Congress, which was less than half of what was requested by the Administration, will not allow commercial crew transportation to the ISS by 2016,” ASAP said in its annual report released this week. “In fact, if the new funding level continues into the future, it is the ASAP’s belief that the program is in jeopardy, thus extending the current lack of a U.S. human spaceflight capability and resulting in no alternative to reliance on Russia to obtain access to the ISS.”


NASA Safety Panel Finds Urgent Need for Clear Direction, Commercial Space Acquisition Strategy

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel that offers guidance to NASA has released its annual report for 2010. A key finding, unsurprisingly, is that the long uncertainty over the space agency’s future is causing a great deal of confusion and lowering morale at NASA centers, possibly jeopardizing safety operations.

The ASAP report also includes a lengthy section concerning NASA’s plans to procure human spaceflight on a commercial basis, with considerable emphasis on the need for the space agency to develop a clear acquisition strategy.

Urgent Need to Promulgate Acquisition Strategy

An acquisition strategy is fundamental to the development of standards and requirements for commercial crew transportation. The Panel has emphasized the necessity of developing and promulgating a good acquisition strategy as quickly as possible.

Key excerpts of the report that deal with clarity of purpose and commercial space are reproduced after the break.


Musk: NASA Safety Panel’s Slam of Commercial Launchers “Bizarre”

SpacX Founder Elon Musk
SpacX Founder Elon Musk

SpaceX founder Elon Musk is slamming the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s recommendation that NASA not abandon the Ares I launcher because commercial alternatives do not meet the space agency’s human spaceflight safety standards, Spaceflight Now reports.

“I have to say I’ve lost a lot of respect for the ASAP panel,” Musk said. “If they are to say such things, then they ought to say it on the basis of data, not on random speculation.”


Safety Panel to Obama: Don’t Ditch Ares I

Ares I-X lifts off from the Cape.
Ares I-X lifts off from the Cape.

Safety panel sides with Ares I rocket
Florida Today

Ditching the development of the Ares I rocket in favor of unproven commercial crew taxis would be “a poor choice,” an independent NASA safety panel said in an annual report released Friday.

“To abandon Ares I as a baseline vehicle for an alternative without demonstrated capability nor proven superiority (or even equivalence) is unwise and probably not cost-effective,” it states.

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s report comes as the Obama administration nears its release of a 2011 budget proposal in early February that is expected to provide a new direction for the nation’s human spaceflight program.

Read the full story.