WASHINGTON — Orbital Sciences Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. could be hauling cargo to the international space station through 2017 under planned two-year contract extensions NASA announced March 31.

In a note posted on an agency procurement website, NASA said it plans to extend the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts it gave Orbital and SpaceX in 2008 “for up to 24 months from December 2015 to December 2017.” 

It was unclear whether NASA will order additional missions or just give the companies additional time to carry out those that are already under contract. NASA’s post said modifications would be “at no cost” to the agency, and “executed one year at a time.” Both Orbital and SpaceX began cargo service years later than anticipated when the CRS contracts were signed in 2008.

The “notional” cost of a CRS extension is included in NASA’s 2015 budget request, NASA spokesman Trent Perrotto wrote in a March 31 email.

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital and SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., each hold contracts to deliver 20,000 kilograms of cargo to the space station valued at $1.9 billion and $1.6 billion, respectively. Orbital carried out one its eight contracted missions; SpaceX has conducted two of a planned 12. 

SpaceX’s third CRS mission, delayed by a problem with a downrange tracking radar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is now set to launch April 14.

Meanwhile, NASA is preparing for a follow-on CRS contract that would cover deliveries from 2017 to 2024. NASA envisions four to five flights a year under CRS 2, and a program budget of between $1 billion and $1.4 billion. 

The White House announced in January it wants to extend space station operations through 2024. Congress has currently committed to fund the space station through 2020.

Meanwhile, NASA said it is leaving the door open for new entrants to compete with Orbital and SpaceX for the CRS business. NASA’s March 31 note said the CRS extension gives competitors time to develop and prove out competing cargo-delivery systems, as SpaceX and Orbital did by staging demonstration missions to the station in 2012 and 2013, respectively. 

If a competing system is proved out in time, the operator could propose flying out the extended CRS missions NASA is planning for 2016 and 2017, or for the CRS 2 contract, the agency said.

Executives with Sierra Nevada Space Systems and Boeing Space Exploration, which are working on crewed space systems under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said they have been parsing NASA’s March 31 request for information about cargo services.

“We are looking at that very carefully,” John Curry, senior director and co-program manager of Sierra Nevada Space’s crewed Dream Chaser system, said April 1 at the Space Tech Expo in Long Beach, Calif. “Ditto,” said Chris Ferguson, director of crew and mission operations for Boeing’s CST-100 space capsule.


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NASA Preparing Follow-on Commercial Cargo Delivery Contract

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...