SpaceX Dragon 2 (left) and Boeing CST-100 capsules. Credit: SpaceX artist's concept and Boeing

WASHINGTON — NASA announced Oct. 9 that it has lifted an order that halted work on commercial crew contracts awarded in September to Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., saying that delaying work during an ongoing contract protest could jeopardize the operation of the international space station.

In a statement posted to the NASA commercial crew program website, the agency said it was using “statutory authority available to it” to proceed with the $6.8 billion worth of Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts it awarded Sept. 16 to Boeing and SpaceX.

“The agency recognizes that failure to provide the CCtCap transportation service as soon as possible poses risks to the 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,” NASA stated as its reasons for resuming work on the contracts.

“These considerations compelled NASA to use its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences where contract performance remained suspended.”

On Sept. 26, Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), the third major company in the CCtCap competition, filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, arguing in a statement that there were “serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process.”

Shortly after SNC filed the protest, NASA instructed Boeing and SpaceX to stop work on its CCtCap contracts, agency spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said Oct. 2. Citing the ongoing protest, she said NASA could not reveal when it issued the stop-work order and how much work, if any, the two companies had performed prior to the order.

The GAO has until Jan. 5, 2015, to rule on SNC’s CCtCap protest.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...