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Five Years to the Moon: How NASA is Prioritizing the Possibility

Published: December 03, 2019

BudgetContracting TrendsNASAResearch and Development

The administration's goal of returning to the moon by 2024 has impacted NASA's organization, budget priorities and how it conducts business. Contractors must be willing to embrace the ongoing changes and offer innovative solutions as the agency moves forward into the next decade.

Introduction: Mission to the Moon and Beyond

The exploration of space is at the top of NASA’s mission objectives.  Space Policy Directive One instructs the agency to lead an innovative exploration program to enable human expansion across the solar system.  A majority of Americans support the continuation of NASA’s programs and agree the costs associated with space exploration are justified.  Since 2017, the Artemis Project is the agency’s crewed spaceflight program, which utilizes commercial spaceflight companies and international partners with the goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024. 

During a speech to the National Space Council in March 2019, Vice-President Mike Pence stated, “The president has directed NASA and Administrator Jim Bridenstine to accomplish this goal by any means necessary.  You must consider every available option and platform to meet our goals, including industry, government and the entire American space enterprise.” 

Because of the high priority placed by the administration, this mission is expected to be the driving force at NASA for the next several years.  It had an impact on the agency’s organization, budget, and it how it conducts business.  Deltek expects contractors will feel the effects as well, as NASA conducts reviews of existing contracts and looks to find additional ways to cut costs and redirect funding towards space exploration.

Changes in NASA’s Spaceflight Operations Leadership

In July 2019, Administrator Bridenstine announced the sudden reassignment of Bill Gerstenmaier, who served as the agency’s Associate Administrator for Human Spaceflight Operations since 2004.  A few months later, NASA announced the appointment of Douglas Loverro to the position.  New to the agency, Loverro spent thirty years with the Department of Defense, including four years as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy.  Additionally, he worked to develop international cooperation in space exploration.  Loverro has private sector experience through work as a consultant and is considered a vocal advocate of the Space Force – another priority of the administration.  It’s likely that his experience in program management, both at the Pentagon and outside of the government, was critical in the decision to appoint him to the position.  He’s expected to bring about changes and ensure that Human Spaceflight Operations is in a strong position to meet their ambitious exploration goals.

NASA’s FY 2020 Budget Prioritizes Space Exploration and Proposes Cuts to STEM and Other Programs

The Administration’s FY 2020 Budget Request proposed $22.6 billion – an increase of 5% of the previous year.  Some of the budget specifics include:

  • $12.3 billion to continue building key components of the Exploration Campaign, which includes the SLS rocket, commercial launch capabilities, the Lunar Gateway, the development of lunar landers, and the Orion crew capsule
  • $1 billion for Exploration Technology, accelerating efforts to develop lunar surface technologies through the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative
  • $6.3 billion for Science which supports planetary and earth science, the James Webb Space Telescope – currently expected to launch in 2020, lunar partnerships and multiple other missions
  • $667 million for Aeronautics Research which may lead to advances in air traffic management, experimental aircraft, and urban air mobility
  • $3.6 billion in Safety, Security and Mission Services and Construction & Environmental Remediation

The budget request also proposed the following cuts:

  • No funding is provided for STEM Engagement, such funds are redirected towards exploration
  • The budget also proposes to terminate the WFIRST, PACE, and CLARREO Pathfinder missions

In May 2019, the administration submitted a supplemental budget request, calling for an additional $1.6 billion to support the Artemis Project to accelerate human spaceflight efforts.

The following chart provides a visual summary of NASA’s budget, including actual funding from FY 2018, enacted funding from FY 2019 and proposed funding for FY 2020, organized by each account:

Source: GovWin IQ Agency Profile

Deltek notes the administration’s priorities on Deep Space Exploration Systems, Exploration Technology, and Safety, Security and Mission Operations are reflected in the budget trends for the past three years.  These remain consistent with their stated mission objectives.  Deltek expects these accounts will continue to see increases in funding in the next decade.

The House of Representatives passed a $22.3 billion budget for NASA on May 16, 2019.  It ensured funding for the programs the administration proposed to cut and largely ignored the supplemental request for an additional $1.6 billion – with some members of congress expressing interest in learning more specifics about the Artemis Project

The Senate passed its version of the budget on October 31, 2019, providing NASA with $22.75 billion, including most of the $1.6 billion in additional funding for Artemis.  However, in November 2019, Russell Vought, Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote to the Senate to request an additional $2.3 billion in the FY 2020 Budget to ensure that NASA would stay on track for their goal. 

Despite the progress made by congress, more work remains to be done.  The budget will be reconciled in conference with any unanswered questions about how much extra funding will be appropriated for the Artemis Project.  Additionally, congress passed a continuing resolution on November 21, 2019 which funds the government through December 20, 2019.  While this gives legislators more time to finalize the budget, additional continuing resolutions may be required.

As NASA takes steps to meet its exploration goals, it will continue to find ways to try and reduce costs and accelerate the efficiency of how procurements occur.  Vendors should be aware of some ongoing trends and what they can expect to see in the coming years.

Increased Utilization of SEWP V for IT Procurements

In the area of information technology (IT) spending, NASA continues to see a steady increase in funding obligations year over year.  Over the past five Fiscal Years, IT spending averaged $2.29 billion.  A noticeable trend was the increased utilization of the Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurement V (SEWP V) Vehicle.  The following chart illustrates the notable increase in NASA spending through SEWP task orders in comparison to GSA Schedule 70.  Note that the SEWP spending data takes into account spending under SEWP V, as well as active task orders awarded under SEWP IV:

Source: GovWin IQ Agency Profile

Deltek believes that SEWP V spending levels will continue to rise in the coming years as more procurement officials look to use it instead of recompeting existing IDIQ contracts within their agencies.  The SEWP Program Office is growing in size and has a new Industry Relations Team to promote increased outreach to vendors.  Additionally, they are continually looking for ways to improve the vehicle’s efficiency.  While an On-Ramp is not planned, vendors who are not SEWP contract holders can get involved by teaming or promoting their products with incumbent vendors.   

SEWP VI is expected to become a reality and Deltek believes it will be larger and more comprehensive than any of its predecessors.  The procurement process is not expected to move forward until FY 2023, in order to allow sufficient time to complete the procurement process before the incumbent contracts expire in 2025.  Vendors interested in pursuing SEWP VI should familiarize themselves with the incumbent vehicle, current contractors and the types of IT products which are currently offered.  Innovation and new technologies remain essential and the SEWP Program Office will likely be interested in the breadth and depth of what individual vendors can provide.  Relationships should be made now so vendors are well-positioned to take advantage of SEWP VI once the Program Office is ready to move forward.

NASA’s Mission Support Future Architecture Program (MAP) and Contract Consolidation Efforts

Another way NASA is looking to reduce costs is through the consolidation of existing service contracts.  While this is a practice which was in place for several years, the efforts have increased and not expected to let up.  In 2017, NASA initiated the Mission Support Future Architecture Program (MAP) to optimize procurement by moving towards a more interdependent model which will allow the agency to share capabilities across centers, realign budget structures and increase collaboration.

For example, in June 2019, the Langley Research Center (LaRC) announced they are reviewing several on-site research and engineering contracts which are coming to completion in the next few years.  The goal is to eliminate duplicative work and overlapping contract vehicles.  The review process is ongoing and expected to be finalized sometime in CY 2020.  The assessment includes the following LaRC contracts:

The Johnson Space Center (JSC) is looking to consolidate the existing Robotics Vehicle and Graphics Simulation Services (RVGSS) Contract # NNJ14HA64B and Software Robotics and Space Systems Services (SRS3) Contract # NNJ14HA01B.  The new requirement is entitled Simulation and Advanced Software Services (SASS) and is a small business set-aside.

NASA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) is currently undergoing a review in support of MAP. One option under consideration is the consolidation of several existing contracts into one agency-wide support services requirement.  Deltek expects announcements regarding decisions will be released publicly.  The JSC’s Centerwide Office of Human Capital Support Services (OHCSS) Contract # NNM14AA15C is one of the requirements expected to be impacted by the review.

Other Procurement Efforts of Note

Along with ongoing consolidation efforts, it’s worth taking a moment to highlight a few current procurement efforts which relate directly to NASA’s space exploration goals.  Interested vendors should take time to review the corresponding Opportunity Reports to see if they are good fits, either as primary contractors or possible teaming partners.

The Johnson Space Center is overseeing an Exploration Extravehicular Activity Production and Services (XEVA) procurement.  To support the Artemis Project and other missions, NASA is developing the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Mobility Unit (xEMU) space suit system.  Feedback was recently requested to learn how to best transition the production and sustainment to industry for future flight and training hardware needs.

Currently ongoing is the Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition IV (RAPID IV) procurement.  The solicitation was released on November 13, 2019 and proposals are currently due by 3:00 PM ET on January 10, 2020.  Administered by the Rapid Space Development Office (RSDO), the purpose of the program is to utilize already developed spacecraft for future missions.  The acquisition process for RSDO spacecraft procurements is nominally 6 to 8 months, with the delivery order period of performance averaging 24-36 months and culminates in delivery in orbit after checkout and acceptance.  Expected to have a ceiling value of $6 billion, RAPID IV could play a key role in meeting the Administration’s current space exploration goals.

Expected to be released on or about December 15, 2019 is a solicitation for the CAPSTONE Mission Launch Service requirement.  CAPSTONE is a planned lunar orbiter that will test and verify the calculated orbital stability planned for the Lunar Gateway station.  This requirement will deliver the required launch vehicle system for the mission.  Proposals are currently scheduled to be due by January 14, 2020.

Conclusions

As NASA continues to move forward in the 21st Century, its primary focus is returning to the moon within in the next five years.  As we enter the next decade, this mission will continue to be the driving force in many of NASA’s decisions, including spending priorities and the contracts which are associated with them.  Vendors who are veterans of this market space should remain mindful of NASA’s ongoing need to reduce costs and increase efficiency, and should be prepared to offer new solutions to ongoing challenges faced by the agency.  New vendors should take advantage of the opportunity to be innovative and bring their unique capabilities to the forefront.  All vendors should continue to closely monitor the ongoing contracts they might be interested in pursuing should there be a follow-on – especially if they are service or IDIQ contracts.  As requirements near their scheduled expiration dates, contracting and program officials may take into consideration whether the efforts can be consolidated into new requirements.  

NASA is in the midst of an exciting and transformative period.  In order to be successful, contractors must be ready to embrace the ongoing changes.