NASA today told industry partners it would abandon the use of Space Act Agreements in the next phase of the program developing commercial crew taxis, despite many companies' preference for them.
"We've made our decision and we recognize that not everyone will agree with it, but we're at the point where we had to make one and move forward,” Brent Jett, deputy director of the Commercial Crew Program office, said during a meeting at Kennedy Space Center.
Space Act Agreements have guided the relatively low-cost development of rockets and spacecraft that SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. will use to fly cargo to the International Space Station.
They've also been used in the first two rounds of the Commercial Crew Development program, or CCDev, which this year split $270 million among four companies.
But NASA says a more traditional contracting arrangement must be entered into when it awards another round of funding next summer for an "integrated design phase."
NASA will impose various requirements to ensure the systems can be certified as safe to fly NASA crews. Procurement rules say the agency must use contracts governed by the Federal Acquisition Regulations when services are being provided directly for the government's benefit.
"It's clear to me that the purpose of the integrated design phase is directly for the benefit of the U.S. government and NASA, and that is to provide a capability for NASA to transport its crews to the space station," said Jett.
Some companies prefer Space Act Agreements because they provide more freedom to design systems, fewer burdensome federal regulations and fixed rewards for meeting technical milestones. They fear compliance with the contracts will drive up costs and slow vehicle development.
NASA promises a "non-traditional" contracting approach that limits burdensome accounting requirements and continues to pay companies fixed awards for meeting technical milestones.
IMAGE: NASA Commercial Crew Program office logo. Source: NASA