NASA plans to begin soliciting proposals around Feb. 7 for a new round of funding to help develop commercial vehicles expected to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station later this decade, the agency said today.
In a procurement notice -- read it here -- NASA said it planned to award grants in the form of Space Act Agreements to "multiple" companies to best meet its goals within available funding.
Congress this year appropriated $406 million for the commercial crew program, less than half NASA's $850 million request.
Companies must submit proposals within 45 days after the announcement. The awards are expected this July or August, with the performance periods extending through May 2014.
The next round of the program, managed at Kennedy Space Center, is called the Commercial Crew integrated Capability, or CCiCap.
The previous two rounds, called the Commercial Crew Development program, or CCDev, awarded $49.8 million of federal stimulus funds in 2010 and $315.5 million in 2011. Four companies developing spacecraft split last year's awards: Blue Origin, The Boeing Co. Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX.
Because of the lower-than-requested funding for 2012, NASA late last year scrapped a strategy to award multi-year contracts for the next development phase, fearing the approach might limit flexibility and competition.
Instead, the agency will continue the earlier rounds' practice of signing Space Act Agreements, which award fixed amounts only when technical milestones are achieved.
This year's limited funding is expected to delay readiness of a commercial system, possibly until 2018, depending on future budgets. The Obama Administration is expected to release its 2013 budget proposal Feb. 13.