On Friday morning NASA will announce the winners of the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability, or CCiCap, awards, the next phase of the agency’s commercial crew program. Already some news is leaking out about the awardees: both the Wall Street Journal and NBCNews.com report that Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX will receive funded awards, with apparently Boeing and SpaceX getting “full-sized” awards and Sierra Nevada a smaller one, complying with the agreement between NASA and key House appropriator Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) to make no more than “two and a half” awards.
However, more than just those three companies submitted awards. ATK made a major push for its Liberty concept, and it’s possible Blue Origin (who, along with Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX, had funded second-round commercial crew development, or CCDev-2, awards) and Excalibur Almaz (which had an unfunded CCDev-2 agreement) may have submitted proposals as well. What will these companies do going forward without a funded CCiCap agreement from NASA?
For Blue Origin, the company is likely to continue progress at a slower, but self-funded pace, relying on the investment that founder Jeff Bezos has made in the company since its inception. Excalibur Almaz, meanwhile, has shown an interest in commercial activities beyond Earth orbit: the company has been pushing circumlunar and deep space missions, seeing better opportunities there than in Earth orbit. Company officials speaking at the NSS’s International Space Development Conference in Washington, DC, in May suggested the company primarily sought an unfunded CCDev-2 agreement to permit some technical interchange with NASA to support the company’s future plans beyond LEO.
ATK is another story, though: the company has invested significantly in its push for a CCiCap award, including a media blitz in the last month. Company officials have suggested they would continue to pursue the program, but at a slower pace, without NASA funding. At the NewSpace 2012 conference last week, ATK’s Kent Rominger outlined an aggressive schedule for Liberty that called for flight tests beginning in 2014 and crew flights starting in 2015, but that schedule depends on winning a full CCiCap award. Rominger said NASA asked them what would happen if they got only two-thirds of their requested funding. “My schedule went out about seven months,” he said. “Proportionally from there it just continues to go out further to the right with less funding.”
And what if the reports are wrong and it’s Sierra Nevada left out of the CCiCap awards? Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems, also spoke at NewSpace 2012 and, during a luncheon address, talked about the perseverance the company had in the past trying to win a different NASA contract, which they finally did after several setbacks. Does that mean the company has a Plan B if they don’t win a CCiCap award? “Yeah, we have a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D,” he said. He declined to go into details about what those backplan plans are, though, saying he would want to consult with his “space family”—those working on the Dream Chaser program—before making any decisions on those plans. “We will discuss those contingency plans if necessary. This is not the time or place to do that.”