This week the new Budget was signed into law and NASA’s funding for the Commercial Crew development has been slashed. So what does this mean for the future?
As we are currently looking at Commercial Space and the different teams who are involved it seems appropriate to review this further and see what real impact this has.
The final budget for Commercial Crew has come out at $406 million which is less then half the original $850 million requested. The Senate and House appropriations committees passed legislation calling for commercial crew funding levels of $500 million and $312 million, respectively. A conference committee between lawmakers agreed to a compromise budget at $406 million.
This has serious implications for the Commercial Crew Development program, NASA currently has four companies working towards milestones each which has specific financial rewards associated with them. While the money for the current set of milestones is already secure the reduce budget does have implications for future milestones. Either NASA will have to reduce the number of companies they are working with or slow down the pace of development. Neither of these options is ideal as it results in the US and NASA not having a crew capability for longer.
Given that NASA are currently paying $63 million per flight to the space station and have at least 4 crew per year launching by 2015 NASA would have spent between $1 billion and $2 billion getting crew there. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden cautioned legislators that reducing the funding would likely add another 2 years to the program meaning that at the current rate another $500 million to $1 billion will be spent on Soyuz flights.
Several of the companies that are currently working towards Commercial Crew have stated that they can launch for less than the $63 million so this new budget makes no sense for the future of US access to space or the goal of reducing costs.
Personally I hope that none of the companies will stop the work they have begun on Commercial Crew and will step up and show the government that they can reduce the cost of access to space and once again give the US the access to space that it has given up at the present time.