So, according to Rob Coppinger, USA has proposed to operate the Shuttle “commercially” as part of their CCDEV proposal. For a cool, $1.5B/yr over the next six years, they’ll provide two shuttle flights per year.
Personally, I think this is mostly a terrible idea. While offering fixed-price services, and moving to FAA regs is nice, I really don’t see how this fits with the spirit of CCDEV. After all, USA is talking about taking over an existing government asset, and flying it temporarily through 2017, not providing a long-term commercial crew capability for ISS in the post 2016 timeframe. And the budget ($9B over the next six years), is way outside the $6B NASA was going to give to commercial crew, or the $3B that the anonymous Senate staffer last week thought would be the real number.
But shuttle huggers, don’t despair. If something like this goes forward, they could probably do this by taking money from the SLS and MPCV budgets. After all, this would be offsetting some of the carrying costs that NASA would have to pay for keeping the Shuttle infrastructure in place. By doing this, there also wouldn’t be any rush to finish Orion or the 70-100 ton version of SLS, because you could just keep flying the shuttle “commercially” for another year or two if commercial crew faces delays. In fact, this would allow NASA to go straight for their beloved 130mT SLS and deep-space rated MPCV, because there would be no need for the intermediate vehicle. They can take as much time as they want.
The only even remotely legitimate purpose for trying to rush SLS/MPCV was the worry that possibly all of the commercial crew providers would be running late. It’s possible I guess, especially if they try and put all their money on just one or two providers. But, under the current Senate-designed plan, if commercial crew does work, SLS/MPCV would be a giant budget-sucking white elephant for several years while actual mission hardware (EDS stages, landers, and/or habs) was developed.
But with this plan, you can just go straight to “exploration class” HLVs and mission hardware, without having to worry about the fate of ISS. Something like this would allow you to keep your HLV infrastructure alive until you actually need an HLV without killing commercial crew.
And anyway, SLS and MPCV have big enough budgets that this would only be cutting out maybe 1/3 of the money they’d be getting over that time frame. If the DIRECT fanboys are right, there may even be a straightforward way for NASA to still deliver on something like that within the budgets they’ve been given, even with keeping the Shuttles flying.
And if there are budget cuts, hey you have the shuttle still flying, you can just stretch out the SLS development even further.
If NASA tries to go this route, they should do so under the SLS budget, not the Commercial Crew one.