The dismissal by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) of RocketplaneKistler’s challenge to NASA’s procurement strategy for commercial space station logistics demonstrations clears the way for the agency to make a new award on the program, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

Mikulski was behind language in the 2008 federal spending bill that barred NASA from making a new Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) award pending a resolution of RocketplaneKistler’s challenge.

Kistler was one of the two original COTS awardees but NASA terminated its deal last year after the Oklahoma City-based company failed to meet contractual milestones.

NASA’s termination of the deal made $175 million available to help another company demonstrate a space station logistics service.

“Based on the GAO ruling, NASA’s dispute is resolved and has fulfilled the mandate in the language,” Mikulski spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz told Space News Jan. 30.


protest challenged NASA’s intent to use a Space Act Agreement instead of a traditional contract to spur development of a privately owned space station resupply service.

Kistler was one of two companies NASA selected in mid-2006 to

split roughly $500 million in funding under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program to help finance the development and demonstration of their proposed space station re-supply solutions.

Last October, after RocketplaneKistler repeatedly failed to meet its deadlines for raising the $500 million in private financing it needed to complete the K-1 reusable rocket, NASA terminated the Oklahoma City-based company’s agreement, freeing the $175 million the agency intends to award to a new company in February.

Because RocketplaneKistler had signed a so-called Space Act Agreement with NASA instead of a more traditional government contract, the company could not appeal its termination to the GAO. However, the company was within its rights to challenge NASA’s intention to use a Space Act Agreement for the new COTS award and that is what the company did when it submitted a formal protest to the GAO last fall.

Kistler also lobbied the U.S. Congress successfully to include language in the 2008 omnibus spending bill prohibiting NASA from making a new COTS award until it resolved its dispute with the company.

COTS hopefuls had said in recent weeks that they expected a GAO dismissal of RocketplaneKistler’s protest to resolve matters and free NASA to move ahead with a new award.

Rick Gilbrech, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Mission Systems Directorate, told Space News in a Feb. 1 telephone interview that he anticipates making a COTS award sometime around the end of February.

Whether RpK considers its dispute with NASA resolved is


Reached by telephone Jan. 29, RpK Chairman and Chief Executive George French declined to comment on the GAO’s denial of the protest.