Phil McAlister, acting director of commercial spaceflight development, oversees the efforts of the Commercial Crew Development and Cargo programs. The dual initiatives spur efforts within the private sector to boost human spaceflight capabilities.
NASA Tech Briefs: As NASA’s acting director of commercial spaceflight development, what are your day-to-day responsibilities
Phil McAlister: My primary responsibility is to advise the mission directorate associate administrator on issues pertaining to design, development, and demonstration of NASA’s commercial spaceflight development efforts. Those efforts currently consist of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which is being managed out of the Kennedy Space Center, and the Commercial Cargo project, which is managed out of Johnson Space Center (JSC).
Those two activities are in very different phases of their lifecycle. The Commercial Cargo project has been ongoing for about five years now, and it’s at the tail end of its development activity. We hope to have flights to the International Space Station by both of our partners, SpaceX [Space Exploration Technologies Corp.] and Orbital Sciences Corp., by the end of this year.
By contrast, the Commercial Crew program is just starting out. As such, it requires much more of my attention on a day-to-day basis. Right now, I’m focused on the acquisition strategy associated with the Commercial Crew program. I also manage a small staff here at headquarters to assist in those efforts.
NTB: What are the Commercial Crew Development programs, and how do they operate?
McAlister: The “Round 2” set of Commercial Crew Development awards were given in April of this year. The goal of those awards is to stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities that could ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services. We have four industry partners in CCDev2: Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp., and SpaceX. All four companies are focusing on long-lead items to mature their design and development efforts, with the overall objective of accelerating the availability of commercial crew services.
On the cargo side, SpaceX’s system is the Falcon 9, the Dragon capsule. Orbital Sciences is developing a Taurus-II launch vehicle with a Cygnus spacecraft on top to deliver cargo to the ISS.
NTB: What kinds of resources are currently needed for commercial spaceflight?
McAlister: In terms of cargo, NASA made an initial investment of about $500 million in 2006. That amount was augmented by $300 million in 2011, in order to reduce NASA’s risk. For that relatively modest investment, NASA sustains to gain access to two new launch vehicles, two new spacecraft capable of delivering cargo to the International Space Station, and the entire associated launch infrastructure.
I think this is very strong evidence that we can change the equation associated with space hardware development, given the right conditions. As far as Commercial Crew, we are just starting out, so we don’t know precisely how much money will be required to successfully execute that program. We have several activities underway to help us develop credible cost estimates, and we’re going to really be focusing on that in the months ahead. For fiscal year 2012, NASA’s requested $850 million for the Commercial Crew program. If we get that level of resources, or perhaps a little bit higher, over the next four or five years, I think it’s reasonable to assume that we will have at least one operational commercial crew transportation system by the middle of the decade.