Rumors Swirl About Imminent CCtCAP Announcement

Rumors Swirl About Imminent CCtCAP Announcement

Rumors are swirling today that NASA will announce the winner(s) of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) award tomorrow, Tuesday, September 16.  Similar speculation abounded at the end of August, but the month came and went with no news.  NASA has been saying for months that it would make the decision in late August or early September, so if tomorrow is not the day, presumably it will be soon.

Andy Pasztor at the Wall Street Journal wrote today that Boeing “appears positioned to beat out two smaller rivals for the bulk” of the award, but cautioned later in the article that NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden could made “a last-minute shift” that “could change the result…”   Pasztor said the announcement could come “as early as” tomorrow.

NASA officials are precluded from saying anything about the competition while the selection process is underway, so which companies are competing is officially unknown.  The agency is funding three companies — Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX — in the current phase of the program, called Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP), and it is widely expected that those three at least are competing for CCtCAP.  CCiCAP and its predecessor phases were conducted under Space Act Agreements rather than through the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) contracting process.   CCtCAP is a FAR-based award and expected to lead to restoring an American capability to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.   The United States has not been able to launch people into space since the final space shuttle flight in 2011.

NASA hopes that at least one commercial crew system will be ready to take astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit (LEO) by 2017.  It must rely on Russia to transport astronauts to and from the ISS until then.

The Obama Administration decided to rely on the commercial sector — supported by significant government funding — to develop a new crew space transportation capability to take astronauts to and from LEO rather than NASA building a new LEO system itself.  Instead, pursuant to a compromise agreement with Congress enacted in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act,  NASA is building a new big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and spacecraft (Orion) to take astronauts beyond LEO.

The commercial crew program is essentially a public-private partnership where the government and industry share the development costs and the government provides a market for the resulting services.   NASA successfully used this approach to develop systems to take cargo to the ISS.  SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation each provide commercial cargo services to the ISS today.  SpaceX is scheduled to launch its fourth operational cargo mission to the ISS, SpaceX CRS-4, this Saturday, September 20.   Orbital’s next cargo flight, Orb-3, is scheduled for October 14.  Orbital has not been involved in the commercial crew program to date and is not expected to be one of the CCtCAP competitors.

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