Representative Frank Wolf, representative from Virginia’s 10th congressional district, has long been ardently opposed to a competitive contracting process for NASA’s commercial crew programme. Because Rep. Wolf chairs the House subcommittee on commerce, justice and science (CJS), he’s in a position of great influence over NASA. Previously, he’s used his position to push through very tight restrictions on exchanges with China, making it virtually impossible to connect in any legitimate way. “If my Chinese counterpart comes here, I’m forbidden to even buy him a cup of coffee,” says one high-ranking NASA employee.
But Rep. Wolf appears to have had a change of heart on commercial crew. According to a release by his office, Wolf and NASA have reached an agreement on the way forward.
The deal is essentially that NASA will receive funding at or near the levels promised by the Senate — $525 million or so — if the commercial crew integrated capability (CCiCap) space act agreements are limited to 2.5 (two primaries, and one partial award), if CCiCap is the final development round and if the next contract awards are the standard federal acquition regulations.
If true — it is unconfirmed by NASA at this time — it means a much tighter competition for funds among the commercial companies. While the ongoing contract, CCDev II, included four companies — Blue Origin, Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada — limiting to two (and a half) going forward means the real cutoff. Though the programmes have become increasingly stable with time, technical maturity and sunk cost, it may mean the end of losing programmes.
An additional consideration is — remember, unconfirmed — it locks NASA into FAR-based contracts. The commercial companies have been loving the Space Act Agreements, which allows NASA a pretty hands-off approach and could allow a services-based contract when the actual ISS transport missions come about. A FAR contract is much more stringent — it requires government cooperation and approval at every step, resulting in a government-owned rocket being launched. It will undoubtedly be slower and more cumbersome, but allow for a greater degree of confidence on NASA’s part.