NASA Issues 'Stop Work' Order on Newly Issued ‘Space Taxi’ Contracts

The first launch under commercial crew has slipped to no-earlier-than November of 2017. Image Credit: NASA / Boeing / Sierra Nevada / AmericaSpace

The first launch under NASA’s commercial crew program was set for no-later-than the end of 2017 after recently announced awards to Boeing and SpaceX. Image Credit: NASA / Boeing / Sierra Nevada / AmericaSpace

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL — Construction of America’s next human spaceships carrying our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) will have to wait longer, because the work has now been ordered “stopped” dead in its freshly trodden tracks by a brand new NASA directive issued barely two weeks after the agency originally announced in mid-September that the winning bids had been awarded to Boeing and SpaceX.

The NASA directive to “stop performance” and halt contract work stems from a new legal challenge filed by the losing bidder, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), AmericaSpace confirmed directly with NASA public affairs today, Oct. 2.

On Sept. 16, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden publically announced at a media briefing held at the Kennedy Space Center press site that Boeing and SpaceX had won the high-stakes and history-making NASA competition to build the first-ever private “space taxis” to launch American astronauts to the ISS and restore America’s capability to launch our crews from American soil for the first time since 2011.

But on Sept. 26, SNC filed a legal protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) challenging NASA’s decision selecting Boeing and SpaceX for contracts under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program, as reported here and here.

“We have decided to protest the CCtCap decision,” Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems told AmericaSpace.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s  Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station.  Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft.  Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida,  Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency's Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Under the CCtCAP award, NASA awarded contracts valued at $6.8 billion to Boeing and SpaceX aimed at restoring America’s astronaut launch capability by the end of 2017 as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) effort to foster the development of privately built human spaceships. The CCP initiative began in 2010 and continues as a public private partnership.

But the forward momentum ground to a halt today, Oct. 2, when NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz confirmed the stop work order to AmericaSpace.

“Pursuant to the GAO protest, NASA has instructed Boeing and SpaceX to stop performance of the CCtCap contracts,” Schierholz stated.

For legal reasons, pretty much nothing is really known about NASA’s rationale for selecting to fund the development of the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Dragon V2 capsules.

Furthermore, no representatives from NASA or SNC will comment further on the protest filing and litigation.

“Beyond that, NASA cannot comment on pending litigation,” Schierholz elaborated.

“The filing of the protest was completed on Friday [Sept. 26],” SNC spokesperson Krystal Scordo told me. “At this time we are not commenting further on the filing protest.”

However, SNC did detail why they have filed the protest with the GAO challenging NASA’s pair of awards to Boeing and SpaceX. SNC stated that their competing Dream Chaser vehicle proposal was denied funding despite approximately equal technical merits and competitive cost.

The Boeing Crew Space Transportation spacecraft, or CST-100 for short. Image Credits: Boeing / AmericaSpace / Mike Killian

The Boeing Crew Space Transportation spacecraft, or CST-100 for short. Image Credits: Boeing / AmericaSpace / Mike Killian

SNC said in a Sept. 26 statement that its legal challenge is based on “NASA’s own Source Selection Statement and debrief indicate that there are serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process,” regarding NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) effort.

Therefore, SNC said it had “no alternative but to institute a legal challenge.”

SNC’s proposal involved building the reusable Dream Chaser manned space plane which can carry a mix of cargo and up to seven crew members to the ISS. It also offered the totally unique capability to land on runways worldwide—detailed in AmericaSpace’s exclusive five-part Dream Chaser interview series with SNC VP Mark Sirangelo.

SNC notes that this is the first time the firm has ever challenged a government award in its 51-year history.

Much of SNC’s protest filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is based on financial merit since “all three competitors were found to be compliant and awardable under the criteria set forth in the request for proposal (RFP).”

SNC says that the “official NASA solicitation for the CCtCap contract prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria.”

Based on the officially announced contact award values, SNC maintains that its proposal was the second lowest cost of the three competitors and that it will therefore cost the U.S. government an additional $900 million by selecting Boeing’s higher cost CST-100 to develop the commercial crew vehicles rather than the Dream Chaser.

The SpaceX Dragon V2. Photo Credit: Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace

The SpaceX Dragon V2. Photo Credit: Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace

Boeing was given the highest value award worth $4.2 billion to build the CST-100. SpaceX was awarded a lesser secondary amount valued at $2.6 billion to build the Dragon V2.

Therefore, from the description from SNC’s protest filing with the GAO, SNC’s rejected space taxi bid was approximately $3.3 billion, or $900 million less than Boeing. NASA thus chose to award the commercial crew contracts to the highest and lowest bidders, for as yet undisclosed reasons.

Furthermore, SNC states that its proposal had “near equivalent technical and past performance scores.”

“SNC’s proposal also achieved mission suitability scores comparable to the other two proposals. The highest ranked and lowest ranked offerors were separated by a minor amount of total points and other factors were equally comparable,” notes SNC.

“Given those facts, we believe that a thorough review must be conducted of the award decision,” SNC said in the Sept. 26 statement.

“SNC’s filing seeks a further detailed review and evaluation of the submitted proposals and capabilities.

“SNC believes the result of further evaluation of the proposals submitted will be that America ends up with a more capable vehicle, at a much lower cost, with a robust and sustainable future.”

The GAO has approximately three months to evaluate SNC’s legal challenge and make a decision regarding NASA’s commercial crew awards.

“The GAO has notified NASA it will make its ruling by Jan. 5, 2015,” Schierholz said.

Meanwhile, SNC has stated they will “continue developing the Dream Chaser” space plane.

“SNC has made the decision to continue the development of the Dream Chaser to flight,” SNC spokesperson Krystal Scordo said.

Sirangelo previously outlined to AmericaSpace how SNC had partnered in recent months with a diverse nationwide and international team of companies, U.S. universities, NASA centers, and nearly two dozen global space agencies to lay the foundation and pave a path forward to manufacture and launch the winged space plane, no matter the outcome of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) decision announced on Sept. 16, 2014.

“We have quite a large team of about 30 companies working for us in building the vehicle as part of our Dream Chaser ‘Dream Team’,” Sirangelo said.

“There are 32 states and 30 companies with employment on this program, nine U.S. universities, nine NASA centers, as well as international partners involved in the program as our ‘Dream Team’.”

Dream Chaser media briefing from 2011 at the Kennedy Space Center press site with Mark Sirangelo, vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (center), Robert Cabana, Director of Kennedy Space Center (left), and Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator (right).  Credit: Ken Kremer / www.KenKremer.com

Dream Chaser media briefing from 2011 at the Kennedy Space Center press site with Mark Sirangelo, vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (center), Robert Cabana, Director of Kennedy Space Center (left), and Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator (right). Credit: Ken Kremer / www.KenKremer.com

“We are very fortunate in that we now actually have 21 space agencies that have a connection to the program, which is pretty incredible. They are direct relationships,” said Sirangelo.

Be sure to check out AmericaSpace’s in-depth look at Dream Chaser and read the exclusive five-part Dream Chaser one-on-one interview series with SNC VP Mark Sirangleo: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Download the entire series at the tab on the right side of our Home Page.

Stay tuned here for continuing developments.

Ken Kremer

Want to keep up-to-date with all things space? Be sure to “Like” AmericaSpace on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @AmericaSpace

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12 comments to NASA Issues ‘Stop Work’ Order on Newly Issued ‘Space Taxi’ Contracts

  • Dennis Berube

    In an unfair politically run world what can anyone expect? SNC along with the others should have got a piece of the pie. Boeing obviously was favored by our pork barrel government. I thought the purpose of commercial was to develop at a cost savings for the public a viable space transport. Boeing should have received less and it divided up fairly.

  • John Bensted

    SNC has become the pariah of newspace. It is impeding progress with a lawsuit it is sure to lose.

  • Art

    I saw this coming when Congress ordered NASA to use standard gov procurement processes. It is no longer a “commercial” program. That will end with CCiCAP. Then it becomes a standard gov pork program or a jobs program for ex NASA or DOD personel(Boeing specifically). I’m assuming that the companies can use private funds to continue work. I guess SpaceX & SNC getting that CCiCAP extension was good strategy. They still get to work on their space vehicles, while Boeing is stopped cold.

    • Joe

      OK, if you really believe that; then why not cancel the Commercial Crew Program and let SpaceX/SNC continue on their own as you say you are confident they will?

  • John Bensted

    Let us hope that these companies, in the near future, find private customers so they are not so reliant on political whim.

  • Tracy The Troll

    Good news is that SNC has partnered with Stratolauncher and orbital with a new ship that is 75% of the current configuration…This combonation could very provide a complete reusability model in the near future….Maybe under $5M per launch for up to three crew members? Lets hope it starts the downward trend of space access

  • johnnyrocketman

    SNC did not interpret the RFP “riddle” correctly. Yes, price was prioritized, BUT they asked for the lowest price of a “certifiable” vehicle. Within that word, “certifiable,” cost, technical, and schedule risks need to be addressed, and SNC’s solution was apparently deemed to have more inherent risk than the other two competitors. Putting an asymmetric lifting body on top of an Atlas launch vehicle is clearly not as straightforward as using a symmetric capsule configuration. Not to mention the fact that SNC had not settled on an abort system propulsion system by the time of submittal. GAO should have little problem dispensing with this protest in short order and allowing this country’s commercial transportation program to move forward.

    • Tracy The Troll

      Johnny
      Would the underwing launch from the Stratolaunch remedy those risk issues as it relates to a “asymmetric lifting body”? Wouldn’t the horizontal launch be better than a vertical position?

  • Lori Robin

    Thanks for writing such an excellent article, Ken!

    SpaceX was the lowest bidder ($2.6B), meeting the same set of requirements as SNC ($3.3B) and Boeing ($4.2B). SNC is, therefore, challenging the seemingly bloated bid by Boeing for the CST-100. Boeing did not win this bidding process. SpaceX did, with SNC coming in second. Boeing actually lost the bidding competition, but got the funding anyway. As a US Taxpayer, I would like to understand the reasoning behind this decision, and why the Boeing bid was so darn high. I applaud SNC’s challenge. Transparency is always a good thing when it comes to the decisions made by our government agencies. We all work so hard for that money!

    And, SpaceX is already flying Dragon …. 🙂

    • Joe

      Jim Hillhouse already addressed the CCiCap milestones status here –

      http://www.americaspace.com/?p=68269#comments

      That more detailed recounting differs considerably from yours.

      You will believe what you want; of course, others might like to see a differing analysis as well.

    • According to The Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor in his piece, “Why Boeing Beat SpaceX in NASA’s Space-Taxi Contest”, located behind the wsj.com’s paywall at,

      http://m.wsj.com/articles/why-boeing-beat-spacex-in-nasas-space-taxi-contest-1412207046?

      Boeing in fact had across the board higher scores than either SpaceX or SNC. You can read the article for yourself, but in no instance did SpaceX “outdo” Boeing.

      The report goes into some depth on SpaceX’s troubled history of meeting deadlines—it’s yet to be within a year of completing any of TacSat-1 (4 yrs), COTS (2 yrs), CRS (2 yrs), and CCiCap (likely more than 1yr.). Orion may complete its CDR before the crewed Dragon does, which SpaceX was scheduled under CCiCap to complete last spring.

      SNC should probably have been the backup to Boeing. Yes, it’s design is risky but it’s also more innovative than either capsule and SNC made much more progress in CCiCap than did SpaceX.

      If this protest gets the attention it deserves, Boeing won’t be the company at risk of loosing it’s CCtCap award. And some are going to have to answer questions the answers to which I know AmericaSpace will enjoy covering.