WASHINGTON — NASA plans to solicit proposals Feb. 7 for the third round of its commercial crew program and award at least two funded Space Act Agreements this summer that will run through 2014 and prepare competing astronaut transportation concepts for production.

NASA has rebranded this initiative as the “Commercial Crew integrated Capability” program, according to a procurement notice posted online Jan. 23. It was formerly known as the Commercial Crew Integrated Design Contract.

Continuing a drumbeat it has sounded since last summer, NASA cautioned that the next round of awards will depend heavily on funding availability. “NASA intends to select a portfolio of multiple [commercial crew concepts] that best meet the [program’s] goals within the available funding,” the procurement notice says.

The Commercial Crew integrated Capability program, being managed out of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is the successor to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, the second round of which will wrap up in July. Ed Mango, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, said CCDev 2 will consume the majority of NASA’s $406 million commercial human spaceflight budget for 2012. NASA had requested $850 million for these activities in 2012.

CCDev 2 represents more than $300 million in federal financial aid. Four companies received funded Space Act Agreements under CCDev 2, which focuses on development of vehicles capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the international space station.

NASA decided late last year that it could not afford to use standard government contracts as previously planned for the upcoming phase of the commercial crew procurement unless it was willing to fund development of just one transportation system.

Space Act Agreements allow NASA to provide companies with federal funds and access to agency expertise without having to draw up a contract that complies with complex federal acquisition regulations. The first two rounds of CCDev were funded via Space Act Agreements.

The caveat with Space Act Agreements is that they do not permit NASA to dictate design requirements to the contractors.



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Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.