As expected, NASA released on Monday a draft request for proposals (RFP) for the next phase of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, known as the Integrated Design Phase. With the shift to a contract based on Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), with some elements of the Space Act Agreements used for the first two CCDev rounds, there’s a lot more documentation and administrivia in this solicitation. Those who have plowed through the documents have raised concern about one passage in main draft RFP document [Microsoft Word .docx format] on pages 52–53 of the 105-page document, a section titled “Phased Acquisition Using Down-Selection Procedures”. It reads:
(a) This solicitation is for the Commercial Crew Program’s acquisition to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost effective access to and from low earth orbit (LEO) including the International Space Station (ISS). The acquisition will be conducted as a two-phased procurement using a competitive down-selection technique between phases. In this technique, two or more contractors will be selected for Phase 1. It is expected that the single contractor for Phase 2 will be chosen from among these contractors after a competitive down-selection.
“Phase 1″ refers to the Integrated Design Phase, the next CCDev round, while Phase 2 refers to the follow-on “Development, Test, Evaluation and Certification” phase, which covers the actual construction and testing of a commercial crewed spacecraft. The passage above appears to indicate that NASA will select only one company for Phase 2, contrary to past claims that the agency planned to support the development of multiple providers. Does this represent a change in plans?
Probably not. One thing to keep in mind is a passage later in that same section: “Notwithstanding paragraph (a), the competition in Phase 2 may result in the award of multiple contracts if budget allows.” That indicates that the agency remains open to providing multiple awards in the following CCDev phase. In addition, when talking to Florida Today reporter James Dean yesterday for an article he wrote about CCDev, he shared with me a clarification he received from NASA on that issue. It turns out that the clause in question is a standard one in FAR-based contracts, and that the Commercial Crew Program was “investigating getting a waiver or deviation from this standard clause language for the final RFP.”
So, while NASA seems committed to continuing to support multiple providers throughout the CCDev program, funding permitting, this case is a reminder that the shift from Space Act Agreements to FAR-based contracts could create some issues that both NASA and industry need to be aware of.