In response to November's cut of commercial crew funding by Congress, NASA officials said today that they do not expect the first operational crew flights to be until at least 2017.
NASA has also dropped plans to issue a formal Request for Proposal from the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) candidates which would have solicited the designs that would have led to selecting one of more vehicles for construction.
The agency instead will continue to rely on Space Act Agreements (SAAs) for the next phase of crew vehicle development.
"Space Acts don't allow us to be involved as much technically with the teams," said NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier. "We can't actually approve their designs, we can't say we're needing a service or getting a service, but we can essentially enable the contractors to make significant progress towards moving forward."
The Obama administration asked for $850 million in the Fiscal Year 2012 federal budget to accelerate CCDev so at least one vehicle would be operational by the time the current contract with Russia for International Space Station crew rotations expires in the spring of 2016. Congress chose to appropriate only $406 million, despite warnings from NASA and the CCDev competitors that slashing the budget would only extend U.S. reliance on Russia.
Gerstenmaier said that had NASA issued the RFP on December 19 as planned, the awards would have been announced in the "June, July, August timeframe" of 2012.
Now he expects to issue the Space Act awards in roughly the same timeframe.
But the cut in funding will delay "potential service capability" into 2017.
"We think we've moved probably into 2017," Gerstenmaier said. "That came about as we got some insight into what our budget is in Fiscal Year '12."
Click here for the official NASA press release.
Articles on today's press conference:
Florida Today "NASA Switches Gears on Commercial Crew Agreements"
Space News "Citing Budget Uncertainty, NASA Switches Commercial Crew Procurement Approach"
SpacePolitics.com "NASA Shifts Back to Space Act Agreements for Commercial Crew Program"