It should become apparent over the course of this year that the NASA bidding process for the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), part of the agency's new Exploration Transportation System (ETS), is about managing change and not about jumping through the hoops of a real procurement process.
NASA has not even selected a contractor for the CEV yet and already it's stated that the CEV's Launch Vehicle's (CLV) upper stage is to be made at its Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) near
There is one big reality that is going to ensure that the contractors for ETS, and what they do for that new transportation system, will look surprisingly like the current industrial set up for the Space Transportation System, commonly known as the Space Shuttle; and that reality is the workers.
They have pensions and employment contracts with Boeing and Lockheed and the many other sub-contractors.
To take a simple example, let's say NASA decides to put the contract for ET manufacturing up for grabs again and Boeing bids for it and wins.
Does anyone think that Lockheed can just sack its workforce and that Boeing will have its own ET people to walk in there and take over? Or does anyone think that it would be easy to transfer the 2,000 Lockheed employees at MAF to Boeing?
These are not production line workers. These are highly skilled engineers whose knowledge and experience cannot be easily replicated.
So key is personal knowledge in the space industry that the Aerospace Industries of America trade association has called for the re-employment of Apollo programme engineers - most of whom are now in their sixties and seventies - because CEV looks like an Apollo capsule.
Now think of the entire STS, from propellant, to mobile platform repair, to orbiter avionics, magnify the exchange of people, the legal, financial enormity of that transition.
Yet in the world of NASA contracting we are expected to believe that operating a multi billion dollar manned space programme can easily exchange one contractor for another. That if Boeing can't provide a vehicle, then Lockheed or Northrop Grumman can.
The reality of the US human spaceflight system is that Shuttle has lasted 30 years and has a huge infrastructure supporting it, from workers, to the offices and test centres and labs that house them, both NASA and contractor owned.
ETS must use similar infrastructure, after all, much of it, we're told, will be shuttle derived - because that is proven technology.
It also has a proven supplier base, which represents thousands of jobs in many states across the
And this is where we cross into the twilight zone of politics, where Congressional representatives, Senators, NASA management, corporate exploration vice presidents, trade unions and lobbyists combine to create a complex mix.
The job NASA administrator Michael Griffin has is to design an ETS that retains the capabilities the agency has at its centres because those centres employ voters, who vote for the politicians who vote through government spending, and provide enough work for the aerospace company's whose lobbyists will also bat for the NASA budget.
So don't be too surprised when Northrop Grumman, with its Orbiter supplying Boeing partner, wins the CEV contract and Lockheed is provided with the CLV upper stage. ATK has already been given the job of integrating the first stage of the CLV, so expect Lockheed to get the job of integrating the first and second stages together and Northrop Grumman the job of integrating the entire CLV/CEV stack - just as Boeing integrates the Shuttle stack today. Expect a similar division of labour for the CaLV.
Already US software company Stottler Henke Associates has declared that shuttle launch provider United Space Alliance (USA) has awarded it a contract to supply activity scheduling software for CEV astronauts.