NASA Delays Award of Commercial Cargo Contracts Again, Drops Boeing

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WASHINGTON — NASA has once again delayed the award of contracts to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station, this time not only pushing the announcement of contracts until as late as the end of January 2016 but also dropping one of the companies from the competition.

In a brief statement posted to the procurement website for the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract Nov. 5, the previous date offered by NASA for a contract announcement, the agency said it was postponing the award to no later than Jan. 30 “to allow additional time for the Government to assess proposals.”

“CRS-2 is a complex procurement,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot said Nov. 5. The delay until late January, he said, will “allow time to complete a thorough proposal evaluation and selection.”

Huot added there was little more that the agency could say about the competition at this time, citing “a procurement communications blackout.”

However, one of the companies that submitted a proposal says it’s been notified it is no longer part of the competition. Boeing spokeswoman Kelly Kaplan said Nov. 5 that NASA informed the company shortly before announcing the award delay that it was no longer considering the company for a contract. NASA did not give a reason for the delay, she said. Boeing has requested a debrief from NASA, which may not take place until after the contracts are finally awarded.

Boeing CST-100
Boeing’s commercial crew capsule CST-100. Credit: Boeing

Boeing offered to NASA a version of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that the company is developing for NASA’s commercial crew program. The loss of the award would not have an immediate impact on the company, Kaplan said, because of its commercial crew work.

The latest delay is the third time that NASA has pushed back the award of the CRS-2 contracts since proposals were submitted in early December 2014. In April, NASA delayed the contract awards from June to September. In August, NASA delayed the awards again, this time to Nov. 5. In both cases, NASA said it needed additional time to evaluate proposals.

NASA previously tried to allay concerns about another delay. “Cargo resupply continues to be a high priority for the ISS Program and the Agency,” NASA said in a Sept. 10 statement on the procurement website. “Evaluation of the proposals continues and NASA remains on schedule to support the November 5th award date.”

At least five companies submitted CRS-2 proposals. In addition to Orbital ATK and SpaceX, which have cargo contracts under the existing CRS program, Boeing, Lockeed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corp. all stated they submitted CRS-2 proposals. Industry sources said earlier this year that NASA has since dropped Lockheed Martin from consideration, but there has been no formal notice of a downselect by NASA or Lockheed.

Sierra Nevada Corp. spokeswoman Krystal Scordo said Nov. 5 that the company has been notified by NASA that it is still being considered for a contract. NASA, she said, “has decided to re-open discussions with offerors in the competitive range for NASA’s CRS-2 contract,” and that Sierra Nevada was “selected to re-open discussions regarding its CRS-2 proposal.”

Orbital ATK spokeswoman Sean Wilson said Nov. 5 that the company was still in the CRS-2 competition, but declined to discuss any details about the delay in awards. Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Allison Rakes said the company had no information beyond NASA’s announcement of the delay. SpaceX spokesman John Taylor declined to comment, citing company practice not to discuss ongoing procurements.

A delay in contract awards until perhaps late January would also span the predicted return to flight of Orbital’s Cygnus and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, which have both been sidelined after launch failures. Cygnus is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 Dec. 3 on the first mission for that cargo spacecraft since an Antares launch failure in October 2014.

Sam Scimemi, ISS director at NASA Headquarters, told a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration and operations committee Nov. 5 that preparations for that mission are going well. He added that the launch could be moved up “a day or so” depending on ULA’s ability to get the Atlas ready.

SpaceX, meanwhile, is scheduled to launch its first Dragon mission since a June 28 Falcon 9 launch failure in January, Scimemi said. A schedule he presented at the meeting showed that launch slated for Jan. 3, but he noted it would take place after commercial missions SpaceX is planning for December.

That schedule is also dependent on SpaceX completing its launch failure investigation. “They’re nearing completion, as I understand it, of their accident investigation” and making unspecified modifications to the launch vehicle to support a return to flight, Scimemi said. “We’re continuing to do all of the processing that is necessary to meet the January launch date, and things are going well with that.”