WASHINGTON — Bipartisan legislation introduced by members of the Florida delegation Oct. 21 aims to minimize the gap between retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet next year and new crewed spacecraft not slated for operation until at least 2015.

The bill, drafted by Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) and Bill Posey (R-Fla.), seeks to foster development of the commercial spaceflight industry by establishing a competitive program aimed at commercial space research and development (R&D) programs within NASA.

“The Centers of Excellence program will create university-based public-private partnerships to support commercial spaceflight research and development with stakeholders in industry and government,” the members said in an Oct. 21 statement issued jointly with members of Space Florida and the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

The legislation comes a day before an expert panel led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine is slated to release its final report on options for the future of NASA’s manned spaceflight program. A summary of the report issued Sept. 8 indicated support for fostering the U.S. commercial space sector and outsourcing NASA operations in low Earth orbit to private companies.

In their statement, Kosmas and Posey said the bill is aimed at improving U.S. space transportation safety with an emphasis on competitive activities focused on spaceflight passenger and crew training and qualification, space transportation policy analysis, spaceport safety and range system development, biomedical countermeasures, aerospace work force training and certification, space vehicle design, including materials and engineering R&D, and space weather, according to the statement.

“With the looming spaceflight gap, it is clear that the commercial spaceflight industry must play a significant role in maintaining our direct access to space and in providing high-quality job opportunities in central Florida,” Kosmas said in the statement. “Our common-sense legislation will bring people together to encourage the development of the commercial spaceflight industry so we can help minimize the gap and protect the space coast’s highly skilled aerospace workforce.”

Posey said maintaining Florida’s leadership in space means incorporating a “host of approaches and initiatives.” He said the legislation is one effort among many “that will be needed to keep us moving forward and will help foster the development of commercial space technology.”

Frank DiBello, the newly anointed president of Space Florida, an industry group based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, said the bill would lay a foundation for R&D to support the government’s reliance on the commercial sector.

“Nowhere is commercial reliance more enabling to the future diversification of so many industries than in our space program,” he said in the statement. “Commercial developmental and application of space technologies will serve as an important catalyst to the innovation economy we all desire for our future.”

The R&D centers would be established through a competitive process based on applications by higher education institutions that meet certain requirements, including demonstrated R&D capabilities, established space transportation and aerospace R&D programs, according to the statement. “Additionally, at least one Center should be located near an active commercial spaceport and Florida universities, including Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, could compete to host one of the centers.”

The objectives outlined in the bill draw from successful Federal Aviation Administration air transportation centers-of-excellence programs, which, since enactment in 1990, has established eight centers that conduct long- and short-term aviation related research, education and training. Under the program, federal funding is matched by contributions from center member universities, their affiliates from industry, and other stakeholders, according to the joint statement.