|By Irene Klotz|
|LAS CRUCES, N.M. — NASA’s expected shift from traditional cost-plus contracts to fixed-price procurements will affect not only how the agency buys spacecraft and services for flying astronauts to orbit, but also how it provides for the maintenance and operation of the International Space Station (ISS), Deputy Administrator Lori Garver says.The agency wants to put a nonprofit organization in charge of the station to “stimulate, develop and manage use of the ISS for users other than the government,” Garver said during a keynote speech Oct. 21 at the International Symposium of Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, N.M. “We expect to enter the competitive acquisition phase on this very soon.”
Following the government’s plans to buy rides for space station crewmembers from commercial launch providers, NASA intends to make the space station more available to businesses, in hopes of stimulating new products, services and markets.
“What we are doing now in commercial work is enabling proof-of-concept experiments on ISS,” Garver says. “If we don’t, there might never be a non-government market for these commercial services or future markets.”
With the space shuttles retiring, the U.S. will be solely dependent on Russia for crew transport to the station until one or more U.S.-based companies can take on the work. The next solicitation for NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, which currently backs five firms — Sierra Nevada Corp., Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin and Paragon Space Development — is expected to be released as early as Oct. 25.
Garver acknowledged the rancor and concern triggered by the Obama administration’s decision to switch to a more commercial approach for flying crews to and from the station.
“In order to be expected to loosen our grip on transporting our precious astronauts, our national treasures, to and from space, we need to assure ourselves — and the nation — that there are capable companies ready to carry that torch forward,” she says.
Part of the resistance to Obama’s plan to procure launch services for astronauts rather than have NASA operate the transportation system itself stems from uncertainty about what the civil government space program would do next, Garver says. “We need to do a better job of planning and articulating what we will do.”
Photo Credit: NASA