Sierra Nevada to Continue Dream Chaser Despite CCtCAP Protest Loss

Sierra Nevada to Continue Dream Chaser Despite CCtCAP Protest Loss

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) said today that it will continue developing and testing its Dream Chaser spacecraft even though it lost its protest of NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) awards to Boeing and SpaceX. 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled in NASA’s favor today, denying SNC’s protest that NASA did not evaluate its bid in accordance with the criteria specified in the request for proposals.  The company said GAO’s decision was “not what SNC expected” and is “evaluating” that decision.

GAO did not release the details of its decision, only a summary in a press release.  The complete text of the decision is under protective order and must be redacted before being made public.

NASA has been supporting all three companies in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of the commercial crew program, a public-private partnership whose goal is to develop U.S. crew space transportation systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).  NASA has been dependent on Russia to provide crew transportation services since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011 and is eager to restore an independent capability through this program. 

NASA was expected to choose only two of the three to continue into the CCtCAP phase.  Price was listed as the top criterion and SNC’s price was much lower than Boeing’s.  According to GAO’s summary, Boeing’s price was $3.01 billion, SNC’s was $2.55 billion, and SpaceX’s was $1.75 billion.  NASA awarded more than that to Boeing and SpaceX.  Boeing received $4.2 billion and SpaceX received $2.6 billion.  NASA explains that its award is the Total Potential Contract Value, which includes special studies and the maximum number of post-certification missions — six.  GAO’s figures are for the Evaluated Price as defined in the CCtCAP request for proposals, which has a guarantee of only two missions.

SNC said today that “we maintain our belief that the Dream Chaser spacecraft is technically very capable, reliable and was qualified to win based on NASA’s high ratings of the space system.”   Dream Chaser is a lifting body — a winged vehicle — that resembles a space shuttle orbiter and would be launched on an Atlas V rocket.   It is based on a design NASA developed decades ago for the HL-20 program. 

At the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Toronto shortly after SNC challenged NASA’s choice of Boeing and SpaceX in September, SNC made clear that it intended to proceed with Dream Chaser regardless of whether it won the protest or not.  Today’s announcement was in a similar vein.  “SNC firmly believes that the Dream Chaser will play a central role in shaping the future of space transportation with its unique capabilities which address a wide spectrum of needs,” it said, adding that it responded to NASA’s request for proposals for a second round of commercial cargo resupply services awards.   SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation currently provide commercial cargo services to NASA under contracts that expire in 2016.

NASA also issued a statement in response to the GAO ruling, saying simply that it is pleased it can move forward with the commercial crew program so America can end its reliance on Russia for ISS crew transportation.

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