It was just last week that NASA issued a “stop work” order, pursuant to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) on Sept. 26, instructing both Boeing and SpaceX to stop performance of their newly awarded Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Today, however, the space agency has decided to exercise their “statutory authority” and press on with the CCtCap contracts despite SNC’s protest with the GAO.
NASA’s official statement, released today, reads as follows:
“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.”
SNC filed a “legal challenge” protesting NASA’s selection of Boeing and SpaceX for contracts to build America’s next crewed low-Earth orbit spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) late last month, stating that, “NASA’s own Source Selection Statement and debrief indicate that there are serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process.”
Although many people who show support for one company over another might call SNC a sore loser, the fact is that many involved in the space program—whether directly or not—are supporting SNC as having a legitimate case for the GAO to consider.
As outlined by Dr. Ken Kremer in a recent AmericaSpace article on SNC’s protest, based on the officially announced contract 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.
That’s a lot of money in these fiscally stringent times, when Congress has already cut NASA’s CCP program funding in half, delayed the first crewed mission from 2015 to 2017, and lengthened our sole source dependency on the Russian Soyuz capsule for astronaut seats at a cost of $70 million each.
The total award value of both SpaceX and Boeing CCtCap contracts are worth up to $6.8 billion, with $4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX. That’s quite a big difference, and Boeing had what most would call the simplest spacecraft design, yet they were awarded (by far) the largest chunk of change. NASA has stated that Boeing is the agency’s primary transport vehicle of choice, with SpaceX’s Dragon V2 awarded as a backup. There’s the old saying, “money talks,” and NASA potentially awarding Boeing $1.6 billion more than SpaceX shows the agency has more confidence in Boeing’s experience and the CST-100’s design, despite the fact that some might not like to hear it. Not only that, but off the record several anonymous sources within NASA have expressed the same.
Additionally, the awards are dependent on Congressional funding; if Congress does not make the requested funds available, then the actual awards will be less, so NASA wants to make sure that if that does happen the CST-100 will still have adequate funds available to become a reality and start carrying crews to and from the ISS from American soil sooner rather than later.
SNC wants a piece of the pie, and believes they deserve it, and many would agree, but if history is any indicator these types of contract decisions are not reversed. Regardless, NASA is pressing on with Boeing and SpaceX while the GAO considers SNC’s protest.
An anonymous source tells AmericaSpace that the GAO will likely find irregularities between the internal selection board records and the final choices for CCtCap and that—despite what may have been reported elsewhere—the irregularities do not involve Boeing.
Only time will tell, as NASA has not, and will not, comment further at this time.