ULA chief urges NASA to get moving

Stop spending on likely losing bidders, Gass says

Written by Ledyard King | FLORIDA TODAY

Michael Gass, President and CEO of United Launch Alliance, speaking at the National Press Club Tuesday. / Ledyard King/GANNETT

WASHINGTON — The head of the joint venture vying to be part of the effort to deliver NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on a commercial spacecraft wants NASA to decide soon who will win that contract.

A speedy decision would provide certainty as the space agency deals with budget pressures roiling Washington, Michael Gass, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, told an audience at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

ULA is a partner of three of the four companies competing for the commercial crew contract. That means ULA can’t favor one partner over another as NASA mulls a final decision, and doesn’t have a motive to invest in any one entry, Gass said.

“Why would you continue to invest when one of three of your investments could only be the potential winner?” Gass told reporters and NASA officials. “So making a decision earlier is really helpful.”

ULA is a joint venture formed five years ago by aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing. In the 60 months since it was formed, ULA has launched 56 Atlas and Delta rockets successfully.

Gass hammered that point home during his one-hour presentation, and he hopes NASA officials will weigh it heavily as ULA makes its pitch to become the nation’s next space taxi.

Three of the four companies competing for the NASA contract — Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin — have proposed using ULA’s Atlas V rocket to carry a crew capsule to the space station. The fourth company, SpaceX, is developing its own rocket, the Falcon 9.

The Commercial Crew Development Program, as NASA calls it, already is hitting bumps.

In February, the Obama administration requested $850 million for the program to proceed with a 2015 launch. But a spending deal lawmakers reached last month would provide only $406 million.

NASA officials say they still are evaluating what that will mean for the program, but it’s expected to delay a launch until at least 2017 unless funding significantly increases in future years.

Delay would be expensive. It would force government officials to keep paying the Russian space agency longer than they’d like to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.

It costs about $62 million for each seat. It also would mean a gap of at least six years between U.S.-sponsored missions carrying crews to the space station.

“We talk about wanting to close the gap and not be dependent on foreign sources only, but then we don’t fully fund the capability,” Gass said. “We all recognize the dilemma our congressional leaders have. With the budget pressures you can’t do everything.”

Contact Ledyard King at lking@gannett.com


Credit: Florida Today [ Link ]






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