Congress will likely appropriate around $500 million for NASA's commercial crew programme, well short of the $830 million in the Obama administration's FY2013 budget request, according to the latest budget markups.

The House appropriated $500 million and the Senate committee appropriated $525 million, with the final to be determined by a conference committee in the near future.

The commercial crew programme is assessing bids for its third round of contracts, called the commercial crew integrated capability (CCiCap), which will assign up to $500 million over two years to at least two different commercial launch providers to develop a system capable of transporting astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Awards are expected to be announced in August, 2012.

While both NASA and the bidding companies have declined to share financial details of the bids received, the CCiCap request for proposal required companies to ask for $500 million or less over a two-year period. The House proposal strongly suggested that NASA downselect to one or two commercial crew providers, citing issues including financial risk and confusion over the programme's ultimate purpose.

"The Committee believes that many of these concerns would be addressed by an immediate downselect to a single competitor or, at most, the execution of a leader-follower paradigm in which NASA makes one large award to a main commercial partner and a second small award to a back-up partner," says the House committee.

The House and Senate committees both appropriated roughly $1.7 billion for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), slated to become the nation's primary mechanism for manned exploration beyond low earth orbit (LEO), the first since the end of the Apollo programme in the 1970s.


 ©NASA - Apollo launch

Under the currently active second round of contracts, called commercial crew development phase two (CCDev II), awardees Boeing, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada share roughly $270 million, doled out as the companies hit individual programme milestones. Under the same CCDev phase, three companies have won unfunded contracts, in which NASA dedicates personnel but not money to assist the companies in developing their systems.

Source: Flight International