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One factor that led NASA to choose the three companies it did for Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) awards is their diverse design approaches to meeting NASA's need to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA announced the three winners today: Boeing, $460 million; SpaceX, $440 million;and Sierra Nevada, $212.5 million. The awards are milestone-based meaning that each company must meet agreed-upon milestones over the next 21 months to receive payments. The award amounts are if all the milestones are met, but could be less if they are not met.
Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Dragon are capsule-based systems while Sierra Nevada's design is a lifting body that resembles a small space shuttle. Boeing and Sierra Nevada plan to launch using an Atlas V rocket, while SpaceX would use its own Falcon 9. By funding a diversity of approaches, NASA hopes to end up with at least two viable commercial crew service providers in the 2017 time frame.
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft (cargo version) berthed to the International Space Station, May 2012
Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser during full scale captive carry test, May 2012
Artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft
NASA and key members of Congress had agreed the agency would choose no more than "2.5" winners, creating the impression there would be two full awards and one partial award and the relative amounts suggest that is what NASA did. NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo program manager Ed Mango, however, dismissed that paradigm during a news conference today. He said NASA negotiated what each company could accomplish within the 21-month period and that determined the funding amounts. NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at a later media teleconference that the selections meet the congressional agreement in the sense that two of the companies -- Boeing and SpaceX -- are being funded to take their concepts all the way to Critical Design Review (CDR), but not Sierra Nevada.
Gerstenmaier said four other companies submitted bids: Space Operations, American Aerospace, Space Design, and ATK. He said NASA determined early on that the first three companies did not meet the basic requirements of the announcement and discussions continued with the remaining four. In the end, the three winners were judged to meet the objectives of the announcement "in a much stronger fashion" than ATK, Gerstenmaier said.
Since the space shuttle program ended last year, NASA has been relying on Russia to take astronauts to and from ISS. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden focused his remarks on how the CCiCAP awards will lead to systems built in America by American companies that will create American jobs rather than "outsourcing" to Russia. He and NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director stressed that some of those jobs will be at KSC or on the "Space Coast" in general, referring to the area of Florida that includes KSC and the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. That section of Florida was hard hit by the layoffs following termination of the space shuttle program.
Boeing's CST-100 would be launched aboard Atlas V rockets, which are built by the United Launch Alliance, a joint Boeing-Lockheed Martin company. Boeing already has received awards from NASA's commercial crew program under two previous "commercial crew development" (CCDev) rounds. Boeing was the prime contractor for the International Space Station, is part of the United Space Alliance that operated the space shuttle, and over the past decades acquired the companies that built the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules as well as the space shuttle orbiters.
SpaceX is developing the Dragon capsule, which is launched on SpaceX's own Falcon 9 rocket. The company successfully launched a cargo-carrying verison of Dragon in May which was developed through NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. NASA astronauts berthed it to the ISS and after several days it unberthed and returned to Earth, landing in the ocean. SpaceX is developing a version capable of carrying people through CCDev2 and the new CCiCAP awards. Elon Musk said today that his company had invested over $1 billion of its own money in Dragon and Falcon 9 on top of the money it has received through the NASA programs.
Sierra Nevada is developing the Dream Chaser spacecraft that, like CST-100, would be launched on an Atlas V. However, DreamChaser is a "lifting body" with wings rather than a capsule. The design is based on work done by NASA decades ago under the HL-20 program. Sierra Nevada received awards under CCDev and CCDev2. At a press conference, Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada's Space Systems, said the company had received a total of $125 million from NASA to date and the company had invested "more than half" that much. He downplayed the significance of the discrepancy between the amount his company will receive under the CCiCAP award versus the others, emphasizing that Dream Chaser will be launched on a proven launch vehicle -- the Atlas V has been launched over 30 times already -- unlike the Falcon 9, and Dream Chaser is a "mature design" that NASA worked on for 10 years and Sierra Nevada has worked on for another eight. Thus he believes his company is not lagging behind the others.
The Atlas V needs to be "human-rated" first. Today it launches only satellites, not people, and additional systems -- such as a launch abort system -- must be added to make it safer for crews. The Atlas V is powered by Russian RD-180 engines which may undermine the rationale that these are "American" systems. Sirangelo dismissed that argument, however, noting that the system NASA currently depends upon -- Soyuz -- is 100% Russian while the majority of the Atlas V is American.
NASA officially announced this morning that Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are the winners of the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) awards. Some news organizations broke the story last night.
The awards are as follows:
NASA will hold a press conference at 10:00 am ET to discuss the awards that will be aired on NASA TV.
MODIFICATION: We have modified the fourth paragraph in response to Alan Boyle's comment (posted below) that his story quoted the Wall Street Journal as to which companies were the big winners and which would get the partial funding.
NBC News reports tonight on the winners of NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) awards. NASA will not officiallly announce them until tomorrow (Friday) morning, though.
Alan Boyle has a story this evening citing his colleague Jay Barbree -- a veteran NBC reporter based at Cape Canaveral, FL --identifying the winners and losers.
NASA and key members of Congress agreed in June that NASA would make no more than "2.5" awards, meaning that two companies would get full funding and one would get partial funding.
According to NBC, citing the Wall Street Journal, SpaceX and Boeing are the big winners, with Sierra Nevada getting the partial award. That makes ATK, which partnered with Lockheed Martin and Europe's EADS on its proposal, the loser.
NASA will make the announcement at 9:00 am ET tomorrow where we will see if Barbree's sources are correct. NASA will hold a press conference at 10:00 am ET from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) featuring NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, KSC Director Bob Cabana, and NASA commercial crew program manager Ed Mango.
The Tauri Group, an Alexandria, VA -based consulting firm, forecasts a robust business for suborbital reusable launch vehicles (SRVs) in a report prepared for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Space Florida. Tauri Group President Carissa Christensen testified to Congress about the report yesterday.
The 102-page report assesses the demand for SRVs in eight markets: commercial human spaceflight, basic and applied research, technology demonstration, media and public relations, education, satellite deployment, remote sensing, and point-to-point transportation. It presents three different scenarios: a baseline scenario, a growth scenario, and a constrained scenario. It also differentiates between two user communities: "individual" and "enterprise" (government, business, non-profit).
The report is full of caveats about the assumptions used in the six-month study and even has a section entitled "major uncertainties" that lays out the sensitivities that readers should bear in mind. Nonetheless, it provides hard numbers forecasting the "seat/cargo equivalents" one might anticipate and revenue for companies involved in the business that are likely to be remembered long after the caveats are forgotten.
In its baseline scenario, the report forecasts 370 seat/cargo equivalents per year in the first year of operations, growing to 500 per year in the 10th year, for a total of 4,518 over 10 years. Revenue over the 10-year period is forecast to be $600 million in the baseline scenario. The growth scenario forecasts $1.6 billion in revenue while the constrained scenario forecasts $300 million.
The report identifies six companies that are developing a total of 11 SRVs to serve the market. The companies are UP Aerospace, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems, and Blue Origin.
Representatives of three of those companies -- Virgin Galactic (SpaceShipTwo), Blue Origin (New Shepard), and XCOR (Lynx) -- testified along with Christensen before the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday. Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, and Stephan McCandilss, Johns Hopkins University, also testified.
George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic and Andrew Nelson of XCOR said their companies expect to begin commercial operations by the end of next year. Brett Alexander of Blue Origin said his company's system is still in development and did not provide a start-date for commercial operations.
The key message from the company representatives was that they want Congress to provide a full eight-year learning period before the FAA is allowed to issue new regulations governing passenger safety on these missions. In 2004, Congress passed a law requiring only "informed consent" for passengers. Essentially the company must explain the risks, and it is then up to the customer to decide whether or not to take those risks. The FAA was prohibited from issuing any other regulations for eight years.
The eight years was to give the companies and the government time to gain experience with commercial human spaceflight to determine what, if any, regulations are needed. Those eight years passed without any of the companies offering commercial flights, however. Earlier this year, Congress extended the learning period to October 1, 2015, but since the earliest any of the companies will be operating is 2013, that would be only a two year learning period. The companies want the full eight years -- and eight years from the first commercial SRV flight, not eight years from whenever new legislation is passed -- or even an indefinite prohibition on regulations. Nevertheless, they said they welcome the FAA's decision to begin what could be monthly telecons to discuss the issues. The first is scheduled for later this month.
Stern and McCandliss discussed the utility of SRVs for scientific research. Stern, a former NASA Associate Administrator for Science and principal investigator of the New Horizons mission that is on its way to Pluto, believes there will be a very strong market for scientific researchers. He stressed that it is not that SRVs will go anyplace that is new, but that they will be launched routinely, providing researchers with frequent, inexpensive access to the space environment, unlike sounding rockets which have been used for decades for certain types of research. McCandliss, an astrophysicist, focused on the differences between using SRVs and sounding rockets, emphasizing that each has their own unique capabilities and some experiments will continue to need sounding rockets.
Whatever the scientific demand may be, Christensen and the company representatives all conveyed that they expect human spaceflight to be the core business by far.
NASA IG Finds Parkinson Violated Advisory Committee Rules in LightSquared Case, But Not Intentionally
NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) released the results of an investigation into whether Brad Parkinson and others on the government's GPS advisory board violated conflict of interest rules when reviewing LightSquared's proposal to build a broadband system that might interfere with GPS. The OIG found that Parkinson did violate the conflict of interest rules, but did not do so intentionally. The report faults NASA's Office of General Counsel and the board's executive director for not advising Parkinson sooner that it might be a problem.
Parkinson is credited as being "the father" of the GPS navigation satellite system and is Vice Chairman of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board. NASA provides administrative support for the interagency board. Board members are not compensated, but must submit financial disclosure forms that are reviewed by NASA's Office of General Counsel to ensure members do not have financial conflicts of interest. Board members also are briefed on their responsibilities to avoid conflicts of interest on "particular matters" while serving.
The OIG found that Parkinson owns "a substantial amount" of stock in Trimble Navigation, a manufacturer of GPS units. By signing a letter along with the chairman of the advisory board in August 2011 to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging that LightSquared's application be denied, the OIG found that he violated the conflict of interest rules because Trimble's business could suffer if the application was granted. Trimble had warned investors of that potential outcome in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
Lightsquared later complained and asked the NASA OIG to investigate if Parkinson or any other Board member violated the conflict of interest rules. The OIG report says that it presented its preliminary findings to the Department of Justice, but it "declined to open a criminal investigation."
The OIG found that Parkinson had properly disclosed his holdings of Trimble stock and did not fault Parkinson "for not immediately recognizing that what he viewed as a general matter of public policy concerning the efficacy of the country's existing GPS network was a 'particular matter' under the statute that he should avoid." Instead, the report faults NASA's Office of General Counsel (OGC) for not overseeing the advisory board's activities sufficiently to determine the potential for a conflict of interest and warning Parkinson earlier than it did to recuse himself. It also faults the advisory board's executive director who it says "could have acted more diligently." NASA's OGC did advise Parkinson and four other board members in November 2011 to recuse themselves with regard to LightSquared matters and they complied.
LightSquared's proposal to build a hybrid satellite-terrestrial mobile broadband network was attacked from many quarters because it would use frequencies adjacent to those used for, and could interfere with, GPS. The company countered that the FCC assigned those frequencies and it complied with every FCC requirement; any interference problems were because the GPS receiver manufacturers did not design them correctly. The FCC ultimately denied the company's application and LightSquared filed for bankruptcy in May 2012.
For those who missed it, here's a link to John Grunsfeld's appearance on Stephen Colbert's show last night.
Sorry for all the annoying commercials one must sit through to watch it; no way to fast forward through them that we could find.
Grunsfeld's segment starts at 15:00. He talks about the upcoming Mars Curiosity landing.
NASA will announce the winners of its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) awards on Friday, August 3, 2012. The much anticipated decision will be released at 9:00 am ET on Friday, with a news conference from Kennedy Space Center at 10:00 am ET.
CCiCAP is the third in a series of NASA Space Act Agreement awards to facilitate the development of space transportation systems by companies instead of the government that can take people to and from low Earth orbit. NASA's interest is in transportation to and from the International Space Station (ISS), but some of the companies in the running also anticipate a broader "space tourism" market.
The first two rounds of the competition were under the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. This round is called CCiCAP to emphasize that NASA now is interested in complete ("integrated") concepts that include a rocket, spacecraft and associated systems.
NASA's commercial cargo program received a lot of visibility earlier this year with the launch and reentry of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX plans to develop a version of Dragon to meet the commercial crew requirements. The competitors for the CCiCAP awards are not known officially since it is still in the competition stage, but industry rumors are that SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Boeing, and ATK are among the bidders.
Air Force plans to eliminate the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program and the Space Test Program (STP) suffered another blow yesterday with the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee markup of its FY2013 bill. The subcommittee added funds for both.
The Senate appropriators are folllowing suit with recommendations from the House and Senate authorizing committtes, but are at odds with their House appropriations counterparts.
The Obama Administration requested zero for ORS and $10 million for STP. The Senate appropriators recommend adding $100 million for ORS and $35 million for STP. The House Armed Services Committee added $25 million for ORS and $35 million for STP. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) recommended $45 million for ORS as well as moving it to another part of the Air Force and transferring $65 million from the Defense Weather Satellite Follow on progam for ORS to build a low cost, high technology readiness level weather satellite. SASC said the transfer was subject to appropriations action, and the Senate appropriators apparently agreed by funding ORS at $100 million. SASC also added $35 million for STP, with which the appropriators also agreed.
By contrast, the House appropriations committee added no money for either ORS or STP.
Details of the Senate appropriations defense subcommittee's rationale have not been released yet, but the House and Senate authorizing committees pointed to the continuing need for both ORS and STP even in an era of budget constraints.
The Senate appropriations bill also "[r]everses cuts to development funds for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency and the Space Based Infrared Systems satellites to mature next-generation technologies, such as hosted payloads, radiation hardened components, and affordability enhancements" according to a committee press release.
The full committee will markup the bill tomorrow at 10:30 am ET.
Congress begins its August recess on Friday and will not return until September 10. The House, Senate, and White House agreed yesterday to enact a 6-month Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government from the beginning of FY2013 on October 1, 2012 through March 31, 2013. The CR will not be voted on until September, but assuming it passes, it gives Congress substantial time to reach agreement on this and the other 11 regular FY2013 appropriations bill.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has postponed tomorrow's scheduled markup of H.R. 4158.
No new date for the markup was set. The bill would confirm full ownership rights for certain astronauts to items from their spaceflights.
Today's subcommittee hearing on suborbital launch vehicles remains on schedule for 2:00 pm ET.
The National Research Council's (NRC) Committee on NASA's Strategic Direction wants to hear from YOU! What do you think NASA's vision, mission and strategic direction are? What should they be? Does NASA need to improve how it communicates?
This NRC study committee is tasked with making recommendations on how NASA can establish and communicate its strategic direction. It was requested by Congress in the FY2012 appropriations bill that funds NASA.
The committee is seeking public input through a questionnaire on the NRC's website. Everyone is welcome to share his or her views.
But hurry! The committee is on a fast track and you only have until August 17 to respond.
Editor's note: In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of this committee.
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