NASA Support Contracts Account for Bulk of Planned Awards

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WASHINGTON — Under new leadership and awaiting potential changes to its goals, missions and organization in 2010, NASA is unlikely to embark on many high-profile hardware acquisitions in the current year. Instead, industry contractors can expect a slew of high-dollar service solicitations to provide information technology, facilities management, launch operations and other support to the U.S. space agency.

NASA has already moved ahead on a multibillion-dollar Information Technology (IT) consolidation initiative known as the IT Infrastructure Improvement Program, or I3P for short. Aimed at overhauling the agency’s IT infrastructure, I3P consists of five separate contracts over a 10-year period, with the first four awards expected by October, according to NASA officials.

“This has been an IT focus of the agency for nearly two years in which we are attempting to increase IT security, get efficiencies from the system and utilize the best the private sector has to offer,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said Jan. 14. “We worked with Vivek Kundra, the White House [chief information officer], to make sure this consolidation was in line with where we were headed in the government in terms of modernizing and streamlining IT.”

Garver said I3P solicitations were delayed several months to allow incoming NASA Chief Information Officer Linda Cureton, appointed to the post in September 2009, to review the initiative. Solicitations for three of the five contracts are now on the street, including an Enterprise Applications for Service Technologies contract that would standardize IT applications across centers and facilities and improve information security and infrastructure management. Solicitations have also been released for the Web Enterprise Service Technologies contract calling for Web site hosting, content management, messaging and calendar services, and the Integrated Communications Services contract to provide NASA with wide- and local-area network, telecommunications and data services.

A fourth solicitation for the Agency Consolidated End User Services contract is expected in late January and the remaining NASA Enterprise Data Center solicitation has yet to be released.

Several NASA field centers are due to solicit or award major support contracts this year, the highest profile among them being Kennedy Space Center’s long-awaited Exploration Ground Launch Services competition. The selected contractor would provide ground processing and operations services to NASA’s Constellation program, a five-year-old effort to replace the aging space shuttle fleet with new rockets and spacecraft optimized for the Moon. Constellation, which includes the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket, could be scaled back as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama realigns NASA’s manned space exploration activities and investments with competing budget priorities

NASA’s Stennis Space Center, the sprawling Mississippi complex that handles much of the agency’s propulsion testing, is due to recompete the test operation contract currently held by Jacobs Technology.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, has its Safety and Mission Assurance Engineering contract up for competition, though an award is not expected until 2011. The current contract, awarded to SAIC in March 2006, is valued at up to $256 million. Johnson’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, or C3PO for short, is expected to award $50 million in technology and study contracts to multiple companies in hopes of fostering privately operated space transportation systems capable of ferrying astronauts to the international space station. The award could eventually lead to higher-dollar-value agreements modeled on NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. Although  awards were expected in November 2009, at press time NASA had yet to announce its selections.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is expected to issue an announcement of opportunity by midyear for its next Medium-class Explorers mission, a competitively selected astrophysics or heliophysics mission that can be done for no more than $180 million. Goddard is also slated to release the final announcement of opportunity for its 12th Discovery-class mission in early 2010, inviting planetary scientists to propose a $425 million mission that would launch by late 2016 and potentially utilize a NASA-furnished radioisotope power system. The draft solicitation for Discovery-12 was released Dec. 7.

The agency picked its 11th Discovery-class mission, a $375 million Moon-mapper called the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, in late 2007.

Other Goddard contracts in the pipeline include the award of several new support contracts this year and the selection of new vendors for its so-called Rapid 3 catalog of prenegotiated spacecraft platforms. The center will also issue a sounding rocket operations contract and a launch range support contract for its Wallops Island Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore. In addition, a five-year contract for the Earth Observing System Data and Information System is expected in April. In 2009 NASA awarded Riverdale, Md.-based Raytheon Mission Operations Systems   an 18-month interim contract worth $48 million to provide data access until the new contract is in place.

Goddard is also seeking new bids this year for the support contract for its NASA’s software-testing Independent Verification & Validation Facility in Fairmont, W.Va. The incumbent, SAIC of McLean, Va., was awarded a five-year indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract in 2006 worth up to $19 million. NASA is expected to award a contract to Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va., for a copy of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite that was destroyed in a launch failure last February. NASA’s 2010 budget includes at least $50 million for this effort.

NASA also intends to consolidate numerous support contracts awarded over the years to Los Angeles-based The Aerospace Corp. into what officials describe as a more manageable bundle of five contracts. The formal solicitation for the noncompetitive procurement is expected in February or March.

Goddard also plans to purchase a number of components this year for missions including the Global Precipitation Monitoring mission to measure annual rainfall and ICESat-2, an Earth monitoring mission designed to measure ice-sheet mass and cloud properties. An announcement of opportunity is also expected this year for science instruments for NASA’s Solar Probe Plus sun-monitoring satellite, a mission already assigned to Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.