NASA's commercial crew and cargo programmes are about changing the way it does business, by privatising access to low Earth orbit. But when it comes to spending money, 50 years of NASA-centric investment in launch and test facilities and cost-plus industry contracts now seems to be a hard habit to break.

We now know that NASA is spending $24 million of President Barack Obama's stimulus funds on launch and test facilities that will improve launch sites set for use by commercial programme participants Orbital Sciences and Space Exploration Technologies.

NASA says the spending is to help "enable commercial human spaceflight capabilities", but Orbital and SpaceX have so far only been engaged in cargo resupply. They are also two competitors - among others - in NASA's crew transport development programme that will make cash awards this month and may lead to a $3 billion competition next year.

Orbital argues its site could be used by others, but historically launch pads are rocket-specific. For example, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station only launches the United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 36-B and ULA's Delta II from pad 17. SpaceX's Falcon 9 will only fly from Cape Canaveral's SLC-40. Are commercial programme selections going to be true competitions or has NASA already picked winners that will enjoy its historical largesse?

Source: Flight International