Successful Commercial Crew Procurement

Max Vozoff is giving another talk after lunch on the business issues with commercial crew.

His first job at SpaceX was writing the COTS proposal, and he then ran it for three and a half years. Very concerned that “commercial crew” will be much less commercial than it is crew.

NASA needs transportation to and from ISS. Also needs safety. Shuttle has set a low bar in this regard, and there is a desire to set a much higher one for future systems. Needs to be dependable, reliable (technical and programmatic). Hard to beat Soyuz in this regard. But we also need domestic US spaceflight capability and industrial base. Also want some sort of commercial investment to sustain it, maintain ground infrastructure, incorporate innovation (traditionally very difficult in space activities), increasing safety and improving efficiency, and expanding scope and capability so not stuck decades from now with what we have today. Finally, want to make spaceflight available for other users.

Religious battle over last year is whether the market is NASA or others. If Bigelow and Space Adventures meet their goals, they have a bigger market than NASA. When a non-NASA employee flies, what has been called “human rating” becomes marginalized. Expect to see a lot more people in the astronaut office quitting and joining the private sector in the next few years.

Any program that lasts more than eight years is likely to be canceled, so question is: what can you do in eight years? NASA has a lot of expertise in analyzing and flying human spaceflight systems, and should take advantage of it. There is a model that works, that’s easily adaptable to the problem. Why not use COTS, and why are we doing it differently, with different people. Just talked to people at NASA who were unfamiliar with a Space Act Agreement and how it works. SAA’s provide much more flexibility with much less overhead for both government and industry, allows industry to operate by its own best practices, and allows the procurement of government employees by industry where needed. Establishes milestones and success criteria, and payments are met when milestones are achieved. Low cost risk for government, with industry eating cost difference in overruns. If milestone is unmet, government can terminate and take possession of IP, or renegotiate. SpaceX ended up spending more than they anticipated, but it came out of their profit, not the taxpayer.

Broad performance goals, not detailed specifications — what, not how. Contractor retains IP, as long as they don’t default, which is crucial for a small company. Investors need to know what IP a company has, and if government is involved, generally queers the deal.

COTS was about delivering cargo (CRS is the service contract for this). Commercial partner much provide sufficient insight to allow government to assess whether milestones have been met. One exception in COTS was ISS safety. Benefits — lower non-recurring costs, recurring also lower. Government acts as early customer, but doesn’t retain ownership. Expands industrial base. COTS was a high-risk pilot project, originally designed to play lip service to commercial, but has been surprisingly successful.

Essential ingredients: clear government need, cost efficiency should trump any design solution, multiple viable commercial competitors, reasonable likelihood of commercial applications beyond government need. No significant technical risk, or industry won’t invest. Solution must be plausible and well bounded in time and cost. All these are present in commercial crew.

Mining the moon good model for cost-plus contract. Commercial crew, not so much.

Need to state goals and requirements, and make human-rating requirements draft only, not final. Can’t set requirements with such a disparate range of systems (example of how to stitch a parachute). COTS learned how to do this, but there is no discernable knowledge being fed forward from C3PO to CCDev.

Thinks a phase A could be done for $20M, with a result of knowledge of requirements, as a funded Space Act Agreements. Over time, neck down to a couple favorites, based on Phase A plans. End point is a certified transportation services. Then compete for basic requirements of X number of people to ISS per year. IDIQ of ay least one award. Big wild card is when other customers come along, which will drive cost, reliability, operations, etc. Goal is to have people investing, competing, marketing, creating real commercial enterprises.

Thinks that we’re on the cusp of this happening. Knows we’ve been talking about it for decades, but really thinks it can come soon, but we have to change the procurement environment, and we have to adapt to it ourselves. COTS is a good model, and reiterates concern tht C3PO is not involved.

4 thoughts on “Successful Commercial Crew Procurement”

  1. Very disappointing to hear that C3PO has nothing to do with CCDev; I didn’t know that. COTS has been a real winner and it’s hard to believe they are not building on it for the next step.

  2. Very disappointing to hear that C3PO has nothing to do with CCDev; I didn’t know that. COTS has been a real winner and it’s hard to believe they are not building on it for the next step.

    Fairly inevitable result of HQ awarding the Commercial Crew program office to KSC (instead of JSC, where COTS was run), in order to “spread the wealth around”.

  3. yeah.. every time I’ve brought this up the random person at NASA I’ve been talking to has assured me that CCDev will be milestone based much the same as COTS was. We’ll have to wait and see.

  4. The only way to break the eight year program cycle is to set up a dedicated organization. The Congressional members that created NASA recognized that which was why they created Comsat to develop the commercial market for communications satellites instead of giving it to NASA. That and because they knew that NASA didn’t wouldn’t the culture needed to do commercial ventures. CCDev will prove this is still the case. Already the firms involved are starting to be assimilated into the NASA contractor world.

    That is why the critical path BEO will not be through NASA but through international organizations built around public-private partnerships. NASA will have a support role, but more in line with the old NACA model then in terms of how space advocate are fighting over today.

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