Spaceflight Insider

Partners announced in latest NASA commercial collaboration

NASA logo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: NASA

In late December of 2014, NASA announced the participation of four companies collaborating in the space agency’s unfunded milestone program to develop greater private space capacity. The selection comes after a year of intense private-public partnerships intended by the space agency to encourage innovation across America’s aerospace industry.

The Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) program is part of the family of Space Act Agreements (SAAs). These agreements require no federal funding for the private partners, but allow NASA to contribute technical training, technology exchanges, and research data. In so doing, the agency acts as a clearinghouse for information, facilitating not only the faster development of private capabilities, but also helping to promote inter-industry platforms capable of interoperating. This ensures greater cost saving for NASA and a variety of private contractors.

“As with NASA’s previous unfunded commercial partnerships, U.S. companies significantly benefit from the agency’s extensive infrastructure, experience and knowledge in spaceflight development and operations,” According to NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development Phil McAlister,

According to the NASA press release, the four companies selected to participate in CCSC include:

ATK Space Systems, in Beltsville, Maryland, is developing space logistics, hosted payload and other space transportation capabilities.

Final Frontier Design, in Brooklyn, New York, is developing intra-vehicular activity space suits.

Space Exploration Technologies, in Hawthorne, California, is developing space transportation capabilities that could be used to support missions into deep space.

United Launch Alliance, in Centennial, Colorado, is developing new launch vehicle capabilities to reduce cost and enhance performance.

NASA Solicits New Collaborative Partnerships with Commercial Space Industry. Image Credit: NASA posted on SpaceFlight Insider

NASA Solicits New Collaborative Partnerships with Commercial Space Industry. Image Credit: NASA

“Companies in all shapes and sizes are investing their own capital toward innovative commercial space capabilities. These awards demonstrate the diversity and maturity of the commercial space industry. We look forward to working with these partners to advance space capabilities and make them available to NASA and other customers in the coming years,” McAlister said.

“The growing U.S. commercial spaceflight industry is opening low-Earth orbit in ways that will improve lives on Earth, drive economic growth and power 21st century innovations. As NASA again pioneers a path into deep space, we look forward to sharing our 50 years of spaceflight experience and fostering partnerships in ways that benefit our nation’s ambitious spaceflight goals,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations.

This concept images shows ARM robotic capture Option B, in which the robotic vehicle ascends from the surface of a large asteroid, on its way to a lunar distant retrograde orbit with a smaller asteroid mass in its clutches. Image and Caption Credit: NASA posted on SpaceFlight Insider

This concept images shows ARM robotic capture Option B, in which the robotic vehicle ascends from the surface of a large asteroid, on its way to a lunar distant retrograde orbit with a smaller asteroid mass in its clutches. Image and Caption Credit: NASA

The selection of these companies comes only around nine months after NASA posted the announcement for CCSC. A request for information (RFI ) was issued eight months earlier, in July 2013, as NASA explored the potential outcomes of such an initiative. A milestones calendar on NASA’s procurement website indicates that, thus far, the project is well on schedule.

Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities is the last of a long line of private/public partnerships launched by NASA in the past few years. Others include the Commercial Crew Program, an innovation to develop private industry spacecraft to take NASA astronauts to low-Earth orbit (LEO), and Commercial Resupply Missions, an ongoing effort to have private companies provide supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Both of those initiatives fall under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) umbrella. Still other partnerships include the Lunar CATALYST program, for a robotic lander on the moon, and the Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency, convened to explore options for NASA’s endeavor to capture and visit an asteroid.

NASA’s hope is that such initiatives provide cost-effective services for the agency, rewarding partners for their participation with access to advanced R&D and the potential for lucrative contracts in the future.


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Since 2011 Joshua Tallis has served as the manager for research and analysis at an intelligence and security services provider in Washington, DC. Josh has co-authored several articles in the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International with colleagues from the defense community. Previous work experience includes internships at the U.S. Congress and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Josh is also a PhD student in International Relations at the University of St Andrews' Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. He is a Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Special Honors graduate of The George Washington University where he received a BA in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs.

Reader Comments

The only program mentioned worth supporting is a lunar lander. By the time they have something to fly someone to the ISS that Albatross will be ready to be abandoned.

ARM is the most incredibly stupid idea ever proposed or pursued by NASA. Anything to keep attention from the one place we need to go- the Moon.

The only hope for any progress in space exploration in this half of the century is an ice harvesting lander that can lift water to wet workshops in lunar orbit. With water as radiation shielding a long duration human presence outside of LEO will finally be possible. Instead of wasting resources on the New Space flim flam the ISS and commercial crew should be dropped and the SLS program accelerated. LEO is a complete dead end.

The Lunar South Pole is the place to go. Robot landers to harvest ice and return to lunar orbit wet workshops is the only practical path to a human presence Beyond Earth Orbit.

I’ll let you try and tell that to the good people at NASA, that the ISS and LEO are a dead end.

And I’ll let you try and tell the good people at PlanetLabs and NanoRacks and Urthecast that its a dead end.

And I’d still like to hear why you can’t make super heavy lift cheap, and how you intend to fund an entire lunar base development, and construction, and operation, with NASA’s current limited budget.

“I’ll let you try-”

No you won’t.

Very well put, I’m also very sick and tired of watching NASA slow walk SLS.
Space flight needs to be a priority, but instead, NASA has made environmental and diversity issues their top priority. Hopefully the next administration will kick Bolden to the curb and put NASA back on the right path.

Environmental issues ARE the top priority. Exploring space is just an extension of that and diversity may be a personal issue with you but it is not what is holding NASA back. You are not helping to promote the SLS with your comment. In fact, your comment sounds more like a fox news blurb so it infers a political bias. That divide-and-conquer game is exactly the opposite of what is needed. Politics and money are always dragged into these discussions when it is not about that per se; it is about technology and decisions. What that technology costs and how the decisions to use it are made are often purposely confused with the reaching the original goal.

Screaming cheap and alternately expressing anti-government views and then wrapping themselves in the flag is the basic strategy of New Space advocates on these forums as one of the comments above illustrates. Space Exploration will not happen as an entrepreneurial enterprise or as a political football tossed back and forth between elections. It will only happen with vast governmental resources applied to the best technology and committed to a decades long plan. And the first critical ingredient in any such plan is being ignored; the ice on the Moon. The Human in Human Space Flight comes first and for humans to spend years in space requires Earth Gravity and near sea level radiation. That environment can only happen with massive water shielding- acquired from the shallow gravity well and ice at the lunar poles. It all starts with Super Heavy Lift Vehicles to get there and wet workshops to put the water in.

NASA would gladly splash the ISS and drop commercial crew if directed back into space. LEO is not space.

Bandagin is way of base and missed the point entirely. If you worked at NASA you would be aware of NASA’s misdirected priorities into areas that has nothing to do with space flight and therefore shifts funding away from space flight.

How much money can be spent on “diversity”?
In regards to funding monitoring the environment, nobody else is going to spend a nickel doing that. Certainly not the energy industry. They have spent enough on climate change denial to buy several satellites to prove their case. What space advocates and at least one NASA employee fail to understand is focusing on the environment is the ONLY way to justify funding space exploration. Gerard K. O’Neill figured this out in the early 70’s and made a brilliant case for space colonization based on improving conditions on Earth.

Actually the nation’s space activities are getting back on track to what they were in the early, early 70’s. Commercial access to LEO for manned flights & supplies is only the beginning. This is something that a future congress or President will not be able to kill, like other promising programs. Once the commercial companies learn what they need to in LEO, they will be NASA’s willing partners in beyond LEO manned exploration of the solar system.

“Actually the nation’s space activities are getting back on track to what they were in the early, early 70′s.”

Apollo was cancelled and the last mission was 1972. Your version of “back on track” and mine are very different.

Tom above is absolutely correct. NASA has plenty of funding, but they divert it to diversity and environmental projects that have no return on advancing space flight. Environmental issues need to be left to NOAA and the EPA, and let NASA blaze forward with space flight. Even the GAO recognized that NASA was misdirecting funds. Those of us who work on a NASA facility see this daily. I could give many endless examples, but here’s a typical one: Government vehicles on a NASA facility are no longer permitted to have windshield washer fluid in the vehicle reservoir, why ? because NASA considers it a chemical spill if the washer is activated.

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