NASA is to get $500 million for its commercial crew transport programme under President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget request for the agency of $19 billion, an increase of under $300 million on FY2010.

The commercial crew programme is likely to fund competing companies that bring private finance to the initiative to deliver crew transport to the International Space Station. The US government's Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) highlights sheet for NASA says that industry will "provide astronaut transportation to the International Space Station as soon as possible".

NASA's commercial orbital transport service demonstration programme, also known as COTS, was given a total of $500 million, while the crew initiative is rumoured to have a total value of $6 billion. The new $500 million programme is likely to replace the Crew Development initiative that NASA started last year. The agency was supposed to downselect to a series of Space Act Agreement winners by December 2009.

The OMB departmental budget fact sheet for NASA says of the new commercial programme: "$500 million to contract with industry to provide astronaut transportation to the ISS, reducing the sole reliance on foreign crew transports and catalysing new businesses and significant new jobs".

The FY2011 budget information to date specifies a research programme for a new heavylift booster, but the departmental factsheet contains no detail. The agency's Ares V cargo launch vehicle, and the rest of the return to the Moon Constellation programme, is cancelled despite the FY2011 exploration budget line increasing by about $1.5 billion - indicating that the definition of what exploration includes has changed.

Under Obama's budget the ISS will be operated beyond 2016, but no new end date for its use is specified.

Other points in the OMB data made public so far include budget growth of $6 billion over the next five years; aeronautics is to be combined with space technology research; the Space Shuttle is to be funded with $600 million until the final flight, even if that is in FY2012; and NASA is called a "research and development agency".

Source: Flight International