During this week’s hearing of the White House Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, members of the Committee expressed broad support for expanding the role of commercial spaceflight for delivery of cargo and crew to the International Space Station.
Committee member and MIT professor Ed Crawley stated during the August 12th public hearing that there is a strong consensus among the Committee that the government should support a vigorous program of developing commercial crew transportation, in addition to the existing COTS program for commercial cargo to the Space Station.
Also during the hearing, astronaut Sally Ride presented a summary slide listing “commercial crew capability to LEO” as an “important component” for future NASA human space flight programs, and said, “we need to get NASA out of the business of getting crew” to Earth orbit.
Committee chairman Norm Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, stated in an interview published yesterday on Space.com, “I’ve always believed there was a great commercial role in the unmanned arena, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think that applies to the human arena as well.”
These pronouncements, especially when combined with the newly announced NASA CCDev program for design and development of commercial crew spaceflight concepts, show that commercial crew is now being seen as a critical part of US human spaceflight.
Shortly after the Augustine Committee was first convened, members of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation submitted a policy paper [pdf] to the Augustine Committee recommending that NASA expand the strategy of the existing Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program for cargo, by investing in a similar program for commercial crewed spacecraft:
* Ensure vibrant competition through multiple awards – Provide significant funding to support the earliest possible competitive development and demonstration of multiple U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities.
* Leverage outside investment to reduce risk – Require private sector investment so that commercial companies “have skin in the game.”
* Milestone-based payments for demonstrated performance – Utilize firm-fixed-price Space Act Agreements that pay for performance upon successful completion of program milestones.
* Commitment to purchase services from the winners – Guarantee a minimum purchase of flights for resulting commercial spaceflight services following successful demonstration of vehicle capabilities.
Ultimately, an expanded commercial spaceflight sector will support full utilization of the Space Station, free up NASA resources for exploration, jumpstart private activity in low Earth orbit that will further lower the cost of access to space, and unleash the economic potential of space long promised.
Sources: Space.com/Space News, Wall Street Journal