Space Act Agreements: A Better Way to Do the Business of Space

written by David Mixson

A Space Act Agreement (SAA) is a legal contract that allows NASA to collaborate with external partners on various projects related to space exploration. SAAs were established by Congress in 1958 with the Space Act.

At its core, an SAA is an instrument that enables NASA to get things done without the mind-numbing rigidity of going through a traditional NASA procurement as defined in the Federal Acquisition Guidelines (FAR) and the NASA FAR Supplement.

While it’s true that SAAs have been around for a long time for small projects, NASA started using them in unique ways in recent years for bigger tasks.

In 2006, NASA incorporated SAAs and firm-fixed-price contracts in a new way on the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract to carry supplies to ISS. And then again, in 2010, on the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program to carry crew to and from ISS.

I’ll explain both of these groundbreaking SAAs in future articles. 

Here, I’ll make a couple of points to get us going.

Current SAAs

I just looked, and NASA has hundreds of active SAAs. They range in complexity from a simple agreement with a high school class to build a poster display to a complex agreement with companies to develop new technologies to launch humans into space.1 

The simple SAAs with schools are great. Complex ones that lead to more affordable access to space are amazing.

Generally speaking, the company that develops the technology using an SAA typically owns the technology even though NASA may have provided funding. NASA gets the service without having to go through the FAR process, and the company develops in-house skills and technologies they can use on other projects. When this happens, it’s a win-win arrangement.

Another advantage of SAAs is that more than one company can usually participate in a single SAA, and either side can terminate the agreement. This breeds competition which is a critical component that’s missing with traditional NASA contracts. 

Suffice it to say, I’m a huge proponent of SAAs, especially with our recent track record of large cost-plus type contracts that seem to balloon out of control on cost and schedule. SAAs are a great way to get public funds into private sector hands to develop technologies and services. They’re also a critical component of making New Space work moving forward.

I’ll step through some examples in future articles.

Read Next

About the Author

David Mixson writes about Old Space and New Space. He worked as an engineer at NASA for more than thirty years and is the author of three books.

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