Space Shuttle 2.0

NASA charts its next giant leap in space.

With only 16 or 17 flights left before the space shuttle fleet is retired in 2010, NASA is looking ahead to its next big adventure: returning to the moon in 2018.

A replacement for the winged orbiters that can make short hops to the international space station and long hikes to another planet is taking shape. In June, NASA divvied up work among 10 field centers for two rockets and a reusable space capsule at the heart of the new $104 billion Constellation Program. The agency has contracts with ATK's Thiokol propulsion division in Brigham City, Utah, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, Calif., for the rockets and rocket engines, and is expected to choose a builder for the capsule in August or September.

But the family of spacecraft that NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has called "Apollo on steroids" will not be ready to fly for six years, maybe eight. That means the U.S. government will be without its own way to put humans in space for as many as four years. To help bridge the gap-and this is a first for the 48-year-old agency-NASA will invest $500 million over the next five years to stimulate development of commercial services that can ferry astronauts and cargo to and from the space station after the shuttle stops flying.

More than 20 private space flight companies submitted proposals earlier this year, but only six hopefuls remained after an initial round of evaluations ended in May. Andrews Space Inc. (Seattle), Rocketplane Kistler (Oklahoma City), SpaceDev Inc. (Poway, Calif.), Spacehab Inc. (Webster, Texas), Space Exploration Technologies (El Segundo, Calif.) and Transformational Space Corp. (Reston, Va.) were undergoing further evaluation this summer. NASA anticipated signing up one or more of the finalists by September for funding for flight demonstrations in 2008 to 2010.

Unlike a typical NASA procurement, the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Initiative is designed for maximum contractor flexibility and minimal government requirements and oversight. NASA's only interest is in development milestones. Participants can obtain parts and services from foreign suppliers to the extent U.S. laws and policy allow. They own the transportation systems they develop and can sell to customers other than NASA.

The agency has spent 18 months defining requirements for the new exploration vehicle with help from competing teams led by Lockheed Martin and a Northrop Grumman-Boeing partnership. One or the other will be tapped as prime contractor to provide the spacecraft-escape system, crew module, service module and adapter for the rocket. In July, the Government Accountability Office found NASA's acquisition approach at risk of cost and schedule overruns and deficient performance (GAO-06-817R).

NASA field centers got contractor work package assignments in keeping with their traditional roles. They include:

  • Johnson Space Center in Houston hosts the Constellation Program as well as capsule and mission operations.
  • Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Fla., is responsible for all ground operations from preflight preparations through launch, landing and recovery.
  • Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages design and de-velopment of the crew and cargo launchers.
  • Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss., tests the rocket engines.
  • Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., share responsibility for engineering and integrating navigation software and avionics.
  • Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., is in charge of the capsule heat shield and an information technology system for safety, reliability and quality assurance.
  • Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., integrates and tests the crew escape system.
  • Glenn Research Center in Cleveland oversees development of the service module and adapter as well as systems for the crew launch vehicle.
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.