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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 2, 2009

Stimulus funding boosts private-sector spaceflight

The Obama administration didn't mince words when it posted a solicitation for NASA"s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program on Aug. 10, 2009.

In seeking proposals on how to spend $50 million from the economic stimulus package, NASA said the goal was to "stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities." Those words, surely not by accident, were taken verbatim from "Advancing the Frontiers of Space Exploration: A Robust and Balanced Program of Space Exploration and Scientific Discovery" — the Obama campaign's main space policy document, and the source of our Promise No. 334.

According to the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group that seeks to "make commercial human spaceflight a reality," the $50 million offering "represents a new milestone in the development of an orbital commercial human spaceflight sector," allowing "several companies to move a few steps forward towards the ultimate goal of full demonstration of commercial human spaceflight to orbit." Proposals are due Sept. 22, 2009, with the funds to be fully spent by Sept. 30, 2010, as required by the stimulus bill.

There's a backstory to how much money is included in the solicitation. According to news reports, the amount was supposed to be $150 million, but under pressure from Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., it was reduced by two-thirds. Shelby represents the state that's home to the Marshall Space Flight Center, which is one of the locations where the expected successor to the space shuttle, known as Constellation, is being developed. Some backers of Constellation see private spaceflight companies — including Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX — as competitors.

Orbital and SpaceX are under contract to deliver cargo by rockets to the International Space Station after the space shuttle is phased out in 2010 or 2011. The $50 million in the solicitation would go toward developing ways for the private companies to ferry crew members, not just cargo, to the space station. (Between the retirement of the space shuttle and the date that Constellation is operational, the United States will contract with Russia to carry astronauts to the space station.)

The $50 million in this solicitation is, by itself, hardly enough to make it possible for private companies to launch crew members into space. But the Obama campaign said it would act to stimulate efforts in that regard and, despite the reduced amount of funding, it has. We rate this a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

Solicitation for NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program , Aug. 10, 2009

Commercial Spaceflight Federation, " NASA Announces Plan to Invest in Commercial Crew Concepts ," Aug. 4, 2009

Orlando Sentinel, "$100M shifted to Ares program," July 3, 2009

E-mail interview with John Pike, director of, Aug. 24, 2009

E-mail interview with James Andrew Lewis, director and senior fellow of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Aug. 24, 2009

E-mail interview with John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, Aug. 24, 2009

E-mail interview with Edward Ellegood, space policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Aug. 24, 2009

E-mail interviews with Keith Cowing of, Aug. 24-25, 2009

E-mail interview with Marcia Smith of, Aug. 25, 2009

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