In late December of 2014, NASA announced the participation of four companies collaborating in the space agency’s unfunded milestone program to develop greater private space capacity. The selection comes after a year of intense private-public partnerships intended by the space agency to encourage innovation across America’s aerospace industry.
The Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) program is part of the family of Space Act Agreements (SAAs). These agreements require no federal funding for the private partners, but allow NASA to contribute technical training, technology exchanges, and research data. In so doing, the agency acts as a clearinghouse for information, facilitating not only the faster development of private capabilities, but also helping to promote inter-industry platforms capable of interoperating. This ensures greater cost saving for NASA and a variety of private contractors.
“As with NASA’s previous unfunded commercial partnerships, U.S. companies significantly benefit from the agency’s extensive infrastructure, experience and knowledge in spaceflight development and operations,” According to NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development Phil McAlister,
According to the NASA press release, the four companies selected to participate in CCSC include:
• ATK Space Systems, in Beltsville, Maryland, is developing space logistics, hosted payload and other space transportation capabilities.
• Final Frontier Design, in Brooklyn, New York, is developing intra-vehicular activity space suits.
• Space Exploration Technologies, in Hawthorne, California, is developing space transportation capabilities that could be used to support missions into deep space.
• United Launch Alliance, in Centennial, Colorado, is developing new launch vehicle capabilities to reduce cost and enhance performance.
NASA Solicits New Collaborative Partnerships with Commercial Space Industry. Image Credit: NASA
“Companies in all shapes and sizes are investing their own capital toward innovative commercial space capabilities. These awards demonstrate the diversity and maturity of the commercial space industry. We look forward to working with these partners to advance space capabilities and make them available to NASA and other customers in the coming years,” McAlister said.
“The growing U.S. commercial spaceflight industry is opening low-Earth orbit in ways that will improve lives on Earth, drive economic growth and power 21st century innovations. As NASA again pioneers a path into deep space, we look forward to sharing our 50 years of spaceflight experience and fostering partnerships in ways that benefit our nation’s ambitious spaceflight goals,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations.
This concept images shows ARM robotic capture Option B, in which the robotic vehicle ascends from the surface of a large asteroid, on its way to a lunar distant retrograde orbit with a smaller asteroid mass in its clutches. Image and Caption Credit: NASA
The selection of these companies comes only around nine months after NASA posted the announcement for CCSC. A request for information (RFI ) was issued eight months earlier, in July 2013, as NASA explored the potential outcomes of such an initiative. A milestones calendar on NASA’s procurement website indicates that, thus far, the project is well on schedule.
Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities is the last of a long line of private/public partnerships launched by NASA in the past few years. Others include the Commercial Crew Program, an innovation to develop private industry spacecraft to take NASA astronauts to low-Earth orbit (LEO), and Commercial Resupply Missions, an ongoing effort to have private companies provide supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Both of those initiatives fall under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) umbrella. Still other partnerships include the Lunar CATALYST program, for a robotic lander on the moon, and the Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency, convened to explore options for NASA’s endeavor to capture and visit an asteroid.
NASA’s hope is that such initiatives provide cost-effective services for the agency, rewarding partners for their participation with access to advanced R&D and the potential for lucrative contracts in the future.