NASA awards first Commercial Crew Flight Contract

This week NASA announced that it had awarded Boeing the first Commercial Crew flight contract under the CCtCap program. However it is important to realize that while the contract has been awarded, as NASA started in the press release.

Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time.

So why were Boeing selected first?  This is a matter of scheduling, the Boeing CST-100 module will be launched atop a ULA Atlas V rocket to ensure that they are able to launch by late 2017 they need to book the flight now to enter the processing flow.  SpaceX has a shorter lead time for their rockets as they manufacture the whole system internally.

There is no denying that this is a significant step both for NASA and Boeing but as they stated there is not guarantee that just because they were awarded the first contract means they will actual fly the first contracted flight.  This will be determined once future milestones in the CCtCap program have been completed and NASA can be confident that they can complete the flight when needed.

GAO releases statement on Sierra Nevada Bid Protest Decision

The following is a statement from Ralph O. White, Managing Associate General Counsel for Procurement Law at GAO, regarding today’s decision resolving a protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corp., B-410485, et al., January 5, 2015.

On January 5, 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corp., of Louisville, Colorado, challenging the award of contracts to The Boeing Co., Space Exploration, of Houston, Texas, and to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract (CCtCap). Sierra Nevada argued, among other things, that NASA’s evaluation departed from the solicitation’s stated evaluation and selection criteria by significantly elevating NASA’s stated “goal” of obtaining an integrated crew transportation system no later than the end of 2017, and by failing to put offerors on notice that the agency’s goal would be central to the evaluation and selection decision.

As explained in our decision, in this procurement, Sierra Nevada offered its Dream Chaser crew transportation system (a lifting body spacecraft), launched using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 launch vehicle, and landed horizontally on normal runways. Sierra Nevada’s price was $2.55 billion.

Boeing offered its CST-100 crew transportation system (a capsule spacecraft), also launched using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 launch vehicle, and landed using parachute and airbag systems for hard-surface landings, or contingency water landings. Boeing’s price was $3.01 billion.

SpaceX offered its Crew Dragon crew transportation system (also a capsule spacecraft), launched using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle, and landed using parachutes and propulsive soft landing systems for hard-surface landings, or contingency water landings. SpaceX’s price was $1.75 billion.

In making its selection decision, NASA concluded that the proposals submitted by Boeing and SpaceX represented the best value to the government. Specifically, NASA recognized Boeing’s higher price, but also considered Boeing’s proposal to be the strongest of all three proposals in terms of technical approach, management approach, and past performance, and to offer the crew transportation system with most utility and highest value to the government. NASA also recognized several favorable features in the Sierra Nevada and SpaceX proposals, but ultimately concluded that SpaceX’s lower price made it a better value than the proposal submitted by Sierra Nevada.

GAO disagreed with Sierra Nevada’s arguments about NASA’s evaluation, and found no undue emphasis on NASA’s consideration of each offeror’s proposed schedule, and likelihood to achieve crew transportation system certification not later than 2017. GAO also noted that, contrary to Sierra Nevada’s assertions, the RFP clearly advised offerors that their proposals would be evaluated against the goal of certification by the end of 2017.

Sierra Nevada also argued that NASA conducted an inadequate review of the realism of SpaceX’s price and overall financial resources, conducted a flawed and disparate evaluation of proposals under the mission suitability evaluation factor, and improperly evaluated the relevance of offerors’ past performance. Based on our review of the issues, we concluded that these arguments were not supported by the evaluation record or by the terms of the solicitation.

The GAO decision takes no position on the relative merits of these proposal approaches to NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract. Instead, GAO reviewed the conclusions reached by NASA to determine if they were reasonable, and consistent with the evaluation approach NASA set out in its solicitation.

Because this protest decision contains proprietary and source selection sensitive information, release of the decision, at this point, is limited to NASA personnel and to outside counsel who have been admitted under the GAO protective order issued for this protest. The parties have been directed to submit proposed redactions for the purpose of preparing a public version of the decision. GAO expects to publish a public version of the decision as soon as possible; however, the release of a public decision may take a few weeks. When the public version of the decision is available, it will be posted to our website, www.gao.gov.

For more information, please contact Ralph O. White at 202-512-8278.

CCtCap is Back On

cctcapOn Oct. 9, under statutory authority available to it, NASA has decided to proceed with the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded to The Boeing Company and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. notwithstanding the bid protest filed at the U.S. Government Accountability Office by Sierra Nevada Corporation. The agency recognizes that failure to provide the CCtCap transportation service as soon as possible poses risks to the International Space Station (ISS) crew, jeopardizes continued operation of the ISS, would delay meeting critical crew size requirements, and may result in the U.S. failing to perform the commitments it made in its international agreements.

These considerations compelled NASA to use its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences where contract performance remained suspended. NASA has determined that it best serves the United States to continue performance of the CCtCap contracts that will enable safe and reliable travel to and from the ISS from the United States on American spacecraft and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for such transportation.

CCtCap on HOLD

Due to the appeal by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) of the CCtCap awards to Boeing and SpaceX both companies have been told to stop any work until the appeal process has been completed.

SNC filed a complaint on 26th Sept 2014 with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), while full details of the complaint are not currently available the general summary appears to be related to irregularities with the selection process and the fact that their bid was $900m less than Boeing’s.  The GAO has 100 days to review and rule on the appeal, at present there is no way to know what they could decide, at the minimum they could rule there is no basis in the complaint at worse they could rule that the contracts are invalid and require the process to be done again.

So what impact does this have on the Commercial Crew program for NASA.  Depending on the GAO’s decision it could either result in a slight delay or at worse could push Commercial Crew into 2018 or beyond.  This would almost certainly mean that NASA would also have to negotiate more seats on Soyuz to cover the delay which based on the last cost increase could run at more than $80m a seat.

What if GAO rules one of the contracts is invalid?  Well that would almost certainly guarantee an appeal by whoever’s contract is invalidated which could drag out the process even further.

The Irony in all this is clearly based on the SNC/Stratolaunch System’s announcement made just yesterday SNC has no plans to abandon the Dream Chaser program and while we are sure having $3.3b would go a long way to complete this they most likely could have found funding elsewhere.

The same goes for SpaceX they clearly have plans that go well beyond just providing Dragon V2 for NASA and again the $2.6b will help realize these goals faster then if they had to fund the development themselves.

Finally Boeing did indicate that if they didn’t get the award they would be laying off workers, whether they would abandon CST-100 is really unknown as there have been indications that they might have or still might consider competing for the CRS2 Cargo contracts which was announced recently.

It seems to us that the only people who will lose out in the mess is NASA and the Taxpayer, NASA because they will potentially be reliant on Russia for longer and Taxpayer because we will have to foot the bill of the appeal process and any changes to the contracts resulting form the appeal.

 

Exciting times in Space

A lot has happened in Space or related to Space recently and the future is looking very bright.

Below is a summary of some of the recent news and upcoming events.

SpaceX and Boeing awarded CCtCap contracts – We now have two companies contracted to build manned spacecraft to deliver crew to the ISS.  Currently only two other countries have the ability to do this.  See my full article on the awards here.

ULA and Blue Origin announce BE-4 engine – Following pressure from various sources ULA have announced they are going to partner with Blue Origin to build the engine which will allow them to move away from the Russian RD-180 engine for Atlas.  Full article include specs can be found here.

Mars Orbiters arriving soon – This Sunday NASA’s Mars Maven orbiter will be arriving at the planet and next Wednesday India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is also expected to arrive.  They will join three other orbiters currently at Mars and the two active Rovers on the surface.

ESA Rosetta Lander Philae has a landing site – The European Space Agency has announced the landing site for Philae which is part of the Rosetta mission.  This will be the first time a vehicle has landed on the surface of a Comet.  For more information on the mission check out the excellent ESA Blog for Rosetta.

First 3D Printer heading to space – Early tomorrow morning SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission is scheduled to lift off, on board will be the first 3D printer to go into space.  The possibilities this opens up for the future are immeasurable.  For more information on the printer check out this page.  We will be posting an update tomorrow morning following the launch of CRS-4.

 

CCtCap awards announced

launch-02_0
Image Credit: NASA

Today at 4pm EDT from Kennedy Space Center NASA announced the winners of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts.

And the winners are:

CST-100
Image Credit: Boeing

Boeing – The CST-100 capsule seen to the right has been awarded $4.2 billion of the money.  Over the next three years Boeing will have to complete a number of milestones below to prove that the CST-100 capsule can indeed deliver crew to the ISS.

While the CST-100, according to Boeing, can be launched on multiple rockets they have selected to use the Atlas V as the launch vehicle.

This will bring Boeing’s total under the Commercial Crew Development program to $4.77 billion.

Image Credit: SpaceX
Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX – The Dragon V2 again seen on the right has also been awarded a contract of $2.6 billion allowing NASA to have a two options for the CCtCap process.

At the time of writing SpaceX have not completed their pad or launch abort tests from the CCiCap contract, however they are scheduled to be completed in the next six months and there should be no reason that SpaceX couldn’t be ready before 2017.

This will bring SpaceX’s total under the Commercial Crew Development program $3.11 billion

Each company will have to pass five certification milestones as well as a number of others that they themselves have selected, payment will be based on the different milestones.  We will bring you news of these milestones once the information has been been made available.

Under the contracts awarded today both companies will perform one demo flight each and a maximum of six crewed missions to the station carrying four crew members each time, they also include some money towards additional studies.  With the introduction of the Dragon V2 and CST-100 NASA have also announced that the space station will move from a six member crew to seven members allow more research to be performed.

The award amounts are based on the paperwork that was submitted during the process by each company and both have to meet the same goals laid out by NASA.  Basically SpaceX will be achieving the same goals for 62% the cost that Boeing will.

In summary this is what we hoped would happen, two competitors have been selected and the next few years are going to be exciting for US manned spaceflight, we are another step closer to returning crewed flight to US soil and despite the fact that one of the competitors is still reliant on Russian engines to get into orbit that may change too as news of a partnership between ULA and Blue Origin to be announced tomorrow could see the RD-180 replaced, we will bring new of that announcement as soon as we have it.

At present we have no news on what will happen to the Dream Chaser program at SNC, when we have further information it will be made available here.