NASA Orders Two More ISS Cargo Missions From Orbital ATK

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WASHINGTON — NASA ordered two more cargo deliveries to the International Space Station from Orbital ATK under a 2008 Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, a company spokeswoman said Aug. 12.

Orbital ATK, Dulles, Virginia, will fly two more missions under its 2008 contract for a total of 10 flights,  according to Orbital ATK spokeswoman Vicki Cox. The company designated the missions OA-9e and OA-10e, Cox said. She declined to say when those flights will occur, although the company has said it plans to launch any new CRS missions it gets from NASA on Antares once it completes two deliveries using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. The Atlas 5 launches are slated for December and early 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA may also order additional  cargo flights from its other CRS contractor, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California. “A modification is in work with both [CRS] providers,” NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz wrote in an Aug. 13 email. “Additional missions for SpaceX are still under discussion.”

SpaceX spokesman John Taylor referred questions about the company’s CRS contract to NASA.

Neither Schierholz nor Cox would disclose the financial terms of NASA’s latest CRS orders. The agency signed CRS contracts with Orbital ATK and Spacex in 2008. Each of these indefinite-quantity, indefinite-delivery deals runs through 2017 and has a maximum value of $3.1 billion. The eight deliveries NASA ordered from Orbital ATK in 2008 cost the agency $1.9 billion. The 12 missions NASA ordered from SpaceX that year cost $1.6 billion. In June NASA announced it planned to extend both CRS contracts through 2018; Schierholz would not confirm if that has happened.

The additional orders coincident with another delay for the awarding of follow-on CRS contracts. Orbital ATK, SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corp. all bid for CRS-2 work and now will all wait until at least November for NASA to make an award.

NASA solicited CRS-2 bids last September and had planned to make awards in May. That slipped to September, and then again to November.

Elizabeth Buchen, director of the engineering economics group of SpaceWorks Engineering, said the decline in satellites is primarily due to failures of Orbital ATK’s Antares and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicles in October 2014 and June 2015, respectively. Credit: NASA TV/SpaceNews
In a vote of confidence following a pair of launch failures in October (Orbital ATK, left) and June (SpaceX, right), NASA has ordered more cargo delivery missions from Orbital ATK and could soon place additional orders with SpaceX. Credit: NASA TV/SpaceNews

Both Orbital ATK and SpaceX suffered launch failures on their latest delivery attempts to ISS. On what was to be its third CRS mission, Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket exploded moments after its Oct. 28 liftoff from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which launches from Cape Canaveral, exploded about two minutes after liftoff June 28 on what was supposed to be its seventh CRS delivery.

Orbital ATK blamed Antares core stage AJ-26 engines, Soviet-vintage hardware refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, for the October failure. SpaceX has yet to come up with a root cause for the June 28 Falcon 9 failure but believes a faulty strut in the upper stage contributed to the mishap.

Orbital ATK is replacing the AJ-26 with Russian-made RD-181s but plans to resume ISS cargo deliveries in early December by launching its Cygnus spacecraft aboard an Atlas 5. Orbital ATK ordered one Atlas 5 shortly after Antares failed and announced Aug. 12 it had ordered a second for a 2016 CRS mission. Orbital plans to resume Antares launches from Virginia in early 2016.

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk has said the company will resume Falcon 9 launches no sooner than September.