NASA Again Delays Award of CRS2 Commercial Cargo Contracts; Boeing Out

NASA Again Delays Award of CRS2 Commercial Cargo Contracts; Boeing Out

Today NASA was supposed to announce the winners of the second round of contracts to provide Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) to the International Space Station (ISS).  Instead, it announced a delay until no later than January 30, 2016.  But there will be fewer competitors.  Boeing has confirmed that it was eliminated from the competition.

NASA contracts with commercial companies to take cargo to ISS.  The first round of contracts went to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK) for missions through the end of 2016, and the contracts were later extended to cover missions in 2017 and early 2018.  Last year, NASA opened a second round called “CRS2”  for flights in 2018-2024. 

Because the selection process is underway, NASA is constrained in what information it can publicly release, including which companies submitted bids.  However, it is widely known that SpaceX, Orbital ATK, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) were bidders. The Wall Street Journal reported on October 1 that Lockheed Martin had been “quietly eliminated” from the competition because of price.

The CRS2 contract awards were supposed to be announced in June 2015, but were delayed to September and then to today.  NASA emailed the following statement to explaining the further delay:

“CRS2 is a complex procurement.  The anticipated award date has been revised to no later than January 30, 2016 to allow time to complete a thorough proposal evaluation and selection.  Since the Agency is in the process of evaluating proposals, we are in a procurement communications blackout.  For that reason, NASA cannot answer questions about this procurement at this time.”

This afternoon, Boeing confirmed to that it was notified by NASA that it has been eliminated from the competition.  In an email, Kelly Kaplan said the company is “confirming that we received a letter today letting us know we were eliminated.”   She had no further comment at this time.

That apparently leaves three companies in the running:  SNC, Orbital ATK and SpaceX.

SNC’s Krystal Scordo said via email that the company was notified this morning that “the Government has decided to re-open discussions with offerors” and “SNC was selected to re-open discussions.”

Orbital ATK’s Sean Wilson confirmed via email that the company is still competing for the CRS2 contract, but had no comment on the delay.  “We will continue to respond to any additional NASA requests for information” while remaining focused on completing its missions under the original CRS contract.

SpaceX’s John Taylor said the company had no comment on the delay.

SpaceX and Orbital ATK are both recovering from failures in their commercial cargo systems, Falcon 9/Dragon and Antares/Cygnus respectively. 

Orbital ATK will resume cargo flights using its Cygnus spacecraft, but launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket instead of Antares.  Two such launches are planned.  The first is on December 3, although Sam Scimemi, Director of the ISS program at NASA headquarters, told a NASA advisory committee today that the launch might be moved up one day.  Another Cygnus will launch on an Atlas V in March.  Antares itself, outfitted with different rocket engines, is expected to return to flight in May 2016 taking another Cygnus to ISS, with another launch planned for September-October, according to Orbital ATK President Dave Thompson.

Scimemi also said that the next SpaceX cargo launch to the ISS, SpaceX-8 (SpX-8), is scheduled for January 2016.  SpaceX plans at least one Falcon 9 launch before that to test changes to the system. SpaceX will launch a set of Orbcomm-2 communications satellites to low Earth orbit, but the company has not announced a date for that launch, saying in mid-October that it would take place in 6-8 weeks.  A launch of an SES communications satellite to geostationary orbit also may precede the cargo flight to ISS.


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