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.
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.
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.
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’.”
“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.
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