Thursday, April 17, 2008

NASA Turns to Private Cargo

Aviation week reports that Michael Griffin, administrator of NASA, has expressly excluded cargo transport in a request to congress requesting that they authorize purchasing crew transport on Soyuz capsules. He plans on stocking up the space station with supplies (water, spare parts, etc) during the shuttle flights, and consuming those during any gap between the shuttle's retirement and when a COTS supplier comes online.

His letter names both the Soyuz and the unmanned progress as excluded from future purchased cargo transport. Griffin states that the white house is on board with this strategy. This development is interesting to consider in light of the earlier confusion about Griffins COTS vision, when he manifested his lack of confidence is a crewed COTS option.

This news comes on the heels of a novel new contract that NASA has signed with Hamilton Sundstrand this week for the purchase of water on the space station. Hamilton Sundstrand will produce a machine that combines Carbon Dioxide form the astronauts breathe with Hydrogen generated by the electrolysis of water when making the station's oxygen. The machine will produce water, which will be cycled back into the water recovery system, and methane that will be vented overboard. The agreement is that NASA will only pay for water produced on the station by this machine, but not for its development. If the machine does not work, NASA does not pay. Such an approach encourages Hamilton Sundstrand to produce at the lowest cost and highest quality while protecting NASA from paying for a defective product.

These are good signs that our nation's space agency is shifting toward a more friendly way of working with industry to create sustainable partnerships that are a high value to tax payer dollar.

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