Trying To Figure Out The Axiom Team's NASA Agreements (Updated)

Keith's note: On 27 January 2020 NASA issued a release NASA Selects First Commercial Destination Module for International Space Station. This title and a lot of the wording are misleading since the release actually says "NASA selected Axiom from proposals submitted in response to a solicitation through Appendix I of NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) 2 Broad Agency Announcement, which offered private industry use of the station utilities and a port to attach one or more commercial elements to the orbiting laboratory."

The Appendix says "All awardees will receive Task Order 1 for concept and business plan development." That's it. Down the road NASA says "At the time of contract award, depending on the concept maturity and availability of funds, NASA may award Task Order 2 to begin the early design phase and mature business plans, leading to subsequent task orders and an eventual decision point for prioritization of use of the ISS port."

This NASA agreement with Axiom is actually the first step in a series of agreements. NASA did not select Axiom to do anything other than come up with a plan - to develop a plan - do something that NASA still has to evaluate - something that requires lots of follow-up Agreements - and more plans. But everyone is reacting as if they are about to start cutting hardware. See "Expanding The ISS For Customers That No One Can Identify" for more thoughts on the Axiom agreement

According to a 30 January 2020 press release In a Space Industry First, NASA Grants KBR the Right to Train Private Astronauts at NASA Facilities from NASA contractor KBR (one of the partners in the Aziom team) "KBR (NYSE: KBR), a leading solutions provider to the civil, military and commercial space industry, will become the first company to train private astronauts at NASA facilities. The company recently signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA Johnson Space Center allowing it to provide human spaceflight operation services to commercial companies. KBR currently holds the only agreement with NASA to provide these services using the agency's facilities and capabilities." and "The agreement directly supports one of five elements of NASA's plan to open the ISS to new commercial and marketing opportunities that will continue the agency's efforts to enable a sustainable low-Earth orbit economy. As was recently announced, KBR will further support this mission by working as a subcontractor to Axiom Space on the first commercial destination module for the ISS."

If you go to this NASA web page Current Space Act Agreements there are links to 4 recently updated lists of current agreements between NASA and a panoply of companies, organizations, educational institutions, and others. On this list (last updated 30 September 2019). There is no mention of "KBR" among the 1,131 SAAs listed. There are 3 SAAs with with Wyle Laboratories, Inc, a KBR subsidiary. One of these agreements is titled "NASA NEUTRAL BUOYANCY LABORATORY FACILITY USAGE AGREEMENT: with Wyle Laboratories, Inc (a KBR subsidiary). This SAA started 10 April 2017 and runs to 31 May 2021 (SSA-SA-16-22103-02). This SAA was signed in 2017 (but the text is not posted online) so I am not certain if that qualifies as "recent" unless there is another NASA SAA with KBR and/or Wylie or another part of KBR signed after 30 September 2019 that we have not been told about.

Axiom has 4 SAAs in place with NASA. These 2 are posted online: ""Flight Operations Directorate Axiom Training (which mentions KBR and several documents as being attached to the SAA which are not provided in the online text of the SAA)" and "Low-Earth Orbit Commercial Development Utilizing the ISS" which is an "umbrella agreement" established "for the purpose of establishing a reimbursable agreement between NASA and Axiom whereby NASA provides unique services and capabilities to Axiom in support of commercial development activities including pre-flight mission planning for prospective astronaut trainees" But nothing specific is mentioned as who pays how much for which service. And neithert KBR or Wylie mentioned.

There are SAAs between Axiom and NASA to use services (and KBR is in the mix on one of them) but there is no evidence of a SAA between NASA and KBR, as mentioned in their press release. Or are they talking about an older one from 2017 with Wylie (i.e, not "recent")? It would seem that KBR issued this press release about a SAA they claim to have that is actually several years old with one of its subsidiaries. NASA makes no mention of any SAA with KBR yet mentions over a thousand other SAAs. It looks like KBR tossed out this press release to capitalize on the recent news of the Axiom agreement signed with NASA representing a team to which KBR belongs.

Right now no one has given Axiom the green light to build and operate anything connected to ISS - just to pursue studies that would lead to further agreements. Good news. Someone has a basic plan that may bear fruit. I have asked NASA for a copy of this Space Act Agreement mentioned by KBR in direct reference to the Axiom activity and any others between NASA and KBR/Wylie that relate to astronaut training and/or use of NASA training facilities.

Keith's update: NASA JSC PAO replied that this agreement with JSC and SGT is the SAA that KBR is referring to. KBR bought SGT NASA JSC/SGT Vendor Partner Agreement 9/10/2019 9/10/2024 Reimbursable JSC SAA-CA-19-28973. Oddly, despite all of the crew training you'd think would go into having commercial astronauts on Axiom attached to the ISS for a prolonged period, that this training would cost a fair amount of money. This agreement says that "Partner agrees to reimburse NASA an estimated $84,606.77 for NASA to carry out its responsibilities under this agreement. In no event will NASA transfer any U.S. Government funds to Partner under this agreement." $84,606.77? That's it - for 5 years - for the use of all the facilities and people has on the payroll? Either NASA is underwriting the work in this SAA to a substantial degree with a hefty discount - or the hundreds of millions NASA has spent to train astronauts for ISS work over the past 20 years represents a gross waste of money on the part of NASA. Or ... this SAA and other documents mentioned above represent only a portion of what the real agreement between Axiom/KBR et al contains.

What JSC and HEOMD ought to be doing is to explain what these agreements are and (more importantly) are not. They need to explain - in normal language, who does what with/from whom, when everything happens, who pays NASA to do do things, and how much it costs (NASA has published "Commercial and Marketing Pricing Policy" price list). The press release by NASA is extremely misleading. Yes these agreements are a start but the title of the NASA press release should have been "NASA Selects The First Company To Submit Plans For A Commercial Destination Module for International Space Station". Just sayin'

Oh yes ... we've covered some earlier commercial astronaut training stories at JSC ...

- Waypoint2space Clarifies A Few Things About Astronaut Training at NASA JSC, earlier post (2016)
- Waypoint2space Wants You To Train Like An Astronaut (But You Won't Be One), earlier post (2016)
- More Q&A With Opifex Global About Their Astronaut Training Thing, earlier post (2019)

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on January 31, 2020 10:51 AM.

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