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NASA's Commercial Crew Program Refines its Course
Ed Mango holds Commercial Crew Program team meeting Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango talks to his team about the program's strategy for Fiscal Year 2012. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
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Commercial Crew Program team meeting The Commercial Crew Program team discusses the next phase of developing a United States-led capability to get a NASA crew to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
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Ed Mango and Brent Jett Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango and Deputy Program Manager Brent Jett update industry partners on the decision to use Space Act Agreements for the next phase of the program. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
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NASA's Commercial Crew Program will move ahead using Space Act Agreements (SAAs) instead of contracts to advance designs of companies vying to launch astronauts into orbit. The move was made so the program could adapt to budget circumstances while maintaining a high level of competition.

"Our goal is to develop the best solutions, through competition, that the U.S. aerospace industry has to offer”," said Ed Mango, CCP's program manager. "SAAs will do just that by allowing us to maintain more partners during the next phase of the program."

The framework of these agreements would allow NASA the flexibility to work with partners in adjusting the technical direction, milestones and funding for integrated capabilities.

The decision to move forward with SAAs was ironed out between NASA, Congress, and the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Management and Budget after the agency received less money than anticipated for its Fiscal Year 2012 budget.

"Contracts in a stable budget environment are very effective in reaching a critical design phase that meets NASA requirements," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. "But in a dynamic budget environment, they can become difficult and costly to maintain. Space Acts won’t allow us to move directly to certification, but they can allow industry to continue to advance their concepts."

SAAs are not a new way of doing business for CCP. In fact, the past two rounds of Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) activities have operated successfully under these arrangements.

"SAAs allow us to collaborate with our partners, provide technical insight, and freely exchange data and information," Mango said. "It's worked really well so far and should get us close to a critical design phase."

It’s his team's ability to remain flexible and embrace change, Mango said, that will guarantee routine American access to the International Space Station and other low Earth orbit destinations around the middle of the decade.

"CCP has one of the best development teams NASA has ever put together for human spaceflight," Mango said. "These folks want to be here, they want to do something different and innovative, and everyone in this program tends to adapt to change quickly."

The announcement for proposals for these integrated capabilities is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2012. These competitively awarded SAAs will be followed by a competitively awarded contract for the certification phase, which will ensure the designs fully meet the safety and performance requirements for a NASA mission.

"NASA is committed to ensuring that U.S. companies are sending American astronauts into space," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "This new acquisition strategy will allow us to preserve competition as we maintain our momentum to provide a U.S.-based commercial crew launch capability at the earliest possible time."

Rebecca Regan
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center