WASHINGTON — NASA is proposing extending three existing contracts to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station through the anticipated end of the station in 2030, rather than recompete them.
In a March 2 procurement notice, NASA said it intended to issue sole-source extensions of its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contracts with Northrop Grumman, Sierra Space and SpaceX. Those extensions would cover missions from January 2027 through December 2030. NASA has previously announced its intent to end the ISS program and transition to commercial space stations by 2030.
NASA did not state in the notice why it was extending the contracts rather than holding a new competition. The notice gives companies proposing to offer alternative cargo vehicles until March 17 to provide NASA with information about their capabilities so that NASA can decide whether to hold an open competition or issue the extensions.
NASA awarded those three companies CRS-2 contracts in 2016 to provide cargo delivery as a successor to the original CRS contracts to Orbital Sciences (now part of Northrop) and SpaceX. Each company was guaranteed at least six missions under the contract, with the ability for NASA to order more.
In March 2022, NASA announced it had ordered six additional missions each from Northrop and SpaceX, bringing the total ordered to date to 14 from Northrop and 15 from SpaceX. NASA has formally ordered only three Dream Chaser missions from Sierra Space, although the company says it will fly at least seven missions under its CRS-2 contract, the first of which is scheduled for later this year on the second Vulcan Centaur launch.
NASA did not disclose the value of those additional missions, stating at the time that pricing information on those contracts is “contractor confidential data.” According to procurement databases, NASA has obligated about $2.2 billion to date to Northrop, $1.1 billion to Sierra Space and $2.35 billion to SpaceX.
It’s unclear if any company would be interested in bidding on a new CRS competition, given the short duration of the contract. Boeing offered a version of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle in the original CRS-2 competition, but NASA did not consider it in the final phase of proposal evaluations. Lockheed Martin also submitted a CRS-2 proposal but NASA determined it was not in the “competitive range” for the program and dropped it earlier in the evaluation phase.
Both Northrop and SpaceX are preparing for their next cargo missions to the ISS in the coming weeks. At a March 2 briefing after the launch of the Crew-6 commercial crew mission, Dina Contella, NASA ISS operations integration manager, said NASA was planning a mid-March launch of the next cargo Dragon mission, SpX-27, a date that will depend on the departure of the Crew-5 Crew Dragon spacecraft from the station, freeing up the docking port the cargo Dragon will use.
She said that will be followed by the departure of the NG-18 Cygnus spacecraft, which has been at the station since November, and the launch of the NG-19 Cygnus tentatively scheduled for April. The NG-19 launch will be the last of the current version of the Antares rocket as Northrop works with Firefly Aerospace on a new version that does away with the Ukrainian-built first stage and Russian engines. While that new Antares vehicle is in development, Northrop plans to launch three Cygnus spacecraft on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.