WASHINGTON — NASA has issued a call for proposals for an International Space Station deorbit module, giving bidders an opportunity to choose the type of contract for its development.

NASA released the final request for proposals Sept. 18 for the United States Deorbit Vehicle (USDV). The vehicle will be used to handle the final phases of deorbiting the ISS at the end of its life, currently scheduled for 2030.

When NASA issued a draft RFP for the module in May, it proposed a “hybrid” contract approach. The development phase of the module would be done under a cost-plus contract, where NASA covers the costs of development plus an incentive fee. Production of the USDV would be done under a fixed firm price contract.

The final RFP gives bidder a choice: they can retain the hybrid approach of the draft RFP or perform the entire work, including development, under a fixed firm price contract. NASA did not elaborate on the change in the RFP documents it released, but in a Sept. 20 statement about the RFP, the agency said it chose this contracting approach to “maximize value to the government and enhance competition.”

NASA included $180 million for the USDV in its fiscal year 2024 budget proposal released in March. Kathy Lueders, at the time NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, estimated that the total cost of the vehicle would be “a little bit short of about $1 billion” but that she hoped competition would bring down its cost.

However, NASA has also been emphasizing the importance of reliability for the USDV because of its critical role in performing the final phases of the station’s deorbit. “It will be a new spacecraft design or modification to an existing spacecraft that must function on its first flight and have sufficient redundancy and anomaly recovery capability to continue the critical deorbit burn,” the agency said in its statement.

“As with any development effort of this size, the USDV will take years to develop, test, and certify,” NASA added.

The RFP states that the base period for the contract runs through March 2031. However, the RFP requests pricing for several options involving storage and launch integration services for the vehicle that would extend through September 2035, an apparent hedge against delays in decommissioning the ISS.

Proposals are due to NASA on Nov. 17, although that could be affected if there is a government shutdown at the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1. NASA anticipates making a single award in April 2024.

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...