President Obama’s National Space Transportation Policy: A Bold Vision for Space

The President has signed an updated National Space Transportation Policy, which ensures that the United States remains the world’s leader in space exploration and scientific discovery, while positioning America to out-innovate our competitors and inspire the next generation of technology leaders.  This plan codifies the current, bipartisan priorities of NASA and provides further direction to other Federal agencies in realizing the President’s bold vision for space.

Under the policy, NASA will continue to lead the expansion of a domestic commercial space industry for low-Earth orbit transportation, while developing a heavy lift launch capability to take humans further than they have ever explored – to an asteroid in the next decade and to Mars by the 2030s.

NASA is well on its way to fulfilling many of the goals of this policy.  Last week, we announced that our Commercial Cargo program has completed all of its milestones and the two companies under contract to NASA, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, have begun cargo delivery to the International Space Station. 

Our next step is successful commercial crew milestones.  NASA is committed to launching U.S. astronauts aboard domestic spacecraft as soon as possible.  Already, we have tasked three companies, SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada to develop spacecraft capable of safely transporting humans to the space station, returning that capability to the United States where it belongs.

This week, the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) requested proposals from companies to develop crew transportation systems that meet NASA certification requirements and begin conducting crewed flights to the space station. This phase of the CCP, called Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), will enable NASA to certify that a company’s crew transportation system is safe, reliable and cost-effective.  The certification process will assess progress throughout the production and testing of one or more integrated space transportation systems, which include rockets, spacecraft and ground operations. Requirements under CCtCap also will include at least one crewed flight demonstration test to the space station before certification can be granted.

The President’s updated policy ensures the availability of domestic space transportation capabilities that are reliable, efficient, affordable, innovative and competitive, in support of national security, civil, scientific and economic interests.  The policy also advocates for advancements in space technologies to expand the Nations’ capabilities in the skies and in space, fuel economic growth, create new jobs and reinforce opportunities for a skilled American aerospace workforce.

The development of a commercial space sector for low-Earth orbit transportation is freeing NASA to develop a heavy lift launch capability to travel further into space than ever before. NASA has already made steady progress on the development of the next generation heavy lift launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS).  NASA is also well on its way to developing the Orion crew capsule, which will take astronauts further into deep space than humans have ever explored.  Next year, NASA will launch the first test flight of the Orion crew capsule. The President’s budget request fully funds NASA’s development of these next generation systems, which will carry U.S. astronauts on deep space exploration missions to an asteroid and Mars. Full funding of the President’s request will enable an uncrewed flight test of Orion in 2014 and the SLS in 2017.