NASA Details Commercial Crew Strategy

NASA held a Commercial Crew session this morning that featured Program Manager Ed Mango and his deputy, Brent Jett. I’ve included some key slides from the presentation along with notes that I took. Above is the schedule, which would have crewed flights to the International Space Station by FY 2017.

Although neither Mango nor Jett would discuss NASA’s FY 2013 budget request for commercial crew, they expressed confidence that funding would be sufficient to ensure genuine competition.

“We are confident that we can award multiple awards in that range during the base period,” Jett said.

There overlapping periods on the schedule labeled “Optional Milestones” and “NASA Certification.” Mango said this approach gives the program flexibility to deal with uncertainty over funding. Jett added that if certification funding is delayed beyond FY 2014, the companies can keep moving forward under optional milestones.

Mango said that safety requirements have been published and are “out on the street.” NASA is looking at certification as a multi-part process. First, it wants to see how industry is proposing to analyze, understand and reduce risks. Then there is a NASA process.

NASA is looking at two approaches to certifiction: DETC (development, testing, evaluation and certification); and a “certification” concept with a reduced scope. Jett said the space agency had planned to go with DETC, but it is evaluating that option.

Jett said that understanding how a company analyzes and reduces risk will tell NASA a lot about the safety culture there. The company needs to be strong in having a healthy tension, strong internal checks and balances, and value-added independent review, he said.