Spaceflight Insider

NASA delays CRS 2 awards again, drops Boeing from consideration

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Commercial Resupply Services and Cargo Program Boeing image posted on SpaceFlight Insider - Copy

NASA has delayed the announcement of which companies will be awarded Phase 2 contracts under the Commercial Resupply Services program. It has been revealed that the cargo version of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has not been selected. This leaves four contenders, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX. Image Credit: Boeing

The second phase of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract has been delayed for a third time. This is according to a posting on the Space Agency’s CRS procurement website as well as reports appearing on Space News. Also of note is the fact that Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, one of five contenders under the lucrative contract, has been dropped from consideration.

These latest changes came on the day that the winners for the second phase of the contract were supposed to be announced. NASA has opted to push the decision back by more than two months at least – to late January. The statement posted on NASA’s procurement website reads as follows:

11/5/15 The anticipated CRS2 award is now no later than January 30, 2016, to allow additional time for the Government to assess proposals.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft NASA Commercial Crew rogram photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

An uncrewed cargo version of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner was not selected under the second phase of CRS. Photo Credit: Boeing

SpaceFlight Insider reached out to NASA to gain a better understanding as to the factors that caused the announcement of the proposals that had been selected to be delayed. A spokesperson for the space agency, Dan Huot, provided the following:

“CRS2 is a complex procurement. The anticipated award date has been revised to no later than January 30, 2016, to allow time to complete a thorough proposal evaluation and selection. Since the Agency is in the process of evaluating proposals, we are in a procurement communications blackout. For that reason, NASA cannot answer questions about this procurement at this time.”

One of the items about the second phase of the CRS contract that has been revealed is that Boeing’s submission, an uncrewed variant of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft – had not been selected to proceed.

“The CST-100 cargo variant uses the same Atlas V launch vehicle as the crew version, which given ULA’s [United Launch Alliance] record means we can count on on-time launches–a critical aspect when delivering research and re-supply cargo to the International Space Station,” Boeing’s Kelly Kaplan told SpaceFlight Insider. “It also docks to the ISS autonomously, greatly reducing ISS operations and load on the astronauts each mission compared to our berthing competitors. As the majority of the vehicle was designed to carry another type of precious cargo, humans, it allows critical cargo to be loaded very late in the launch sequence, removed quickly once on orbit, and removed quickly once on the ground.”

A report appearing Oct. 1, 2015, on The Denver Post Business has stated that NASA has already opted to not select Lockheed Martin’s Jupiter spacecraft. If correct, it would mean that the competition is actually down to three firms. The report also noted that the contract was for $14 billion. The actual amount of the CRS-2 contract is between $1 billion and $1.4 billion (NASA’s total budget is around $17.6 billion annually).

“We’re not going to comment on the status of pending procurements, but here’s what we can tell you. We submitted our proposal in December of last year.  NASA expects to announce the winner or winners in January. We feel that our proposal offers value today through affordable, high-capacity Space Station resupply, and a path forward for tomorrow, through technologies that will power future human deep-space missions. Those missions will need crew habitats, servicing vehicles, and autonomous in-space robotic operations.  Our CRS-2 solution is designed to lay the groundwork for all of those important capabilities,” Lockheed Martin’s Allison Rakes told SpaceFlight Insider.

Orbital ATK is working to have the new enhanced version of their Antares rocket launch in late spring of 2016. Photo Credit: NASA

Orbital ATK is working to have the new enhanced version of their Antares rocket launch in late spring of 2016. Photo Credit: NASA

There were five primary proposals that were given consideration. They came from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation and SpaceX.

The proposals under the second phase of CRS were submitted in December of 2014 and included:

Lockheed Martin’s Jupiter – Utilizing designs from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) Mission as well as the space agency’s Juno spacecraft, Jupiter would include a 14 ft (4.4-meter) cargo transportation module which has been dubbed Exoliner. Exoliner is based on the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle and, if selected, would be jointly developed by Thales Alenia Space.

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft – The “enhanced” version of the spacecraft is currently scheduled to fly on a ULA Atlas V 401 no-earlier-than Dec. 3, 2015. The mission should see some 7,700 lbs (3,493 kg) worth of cargo delivered thanks in part to the space freighter’s increased capabilities. To date, three Cygnus spacecraft have traveled successfully to the ISS (two operational flights under CRS and one demonstration flight under NASA’s Commercial Transportation Services contract).

Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser (cargo) – SNC has unveiled an uncrewed version of the Dream Chaser spacecraft that it had submitted under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The variant of the HL-20-based mini shuttle has been dubbed the Dream Chaser Cargo System and would be equipped with foldable wings so that the spacecraft can fit on a five-meter cargo fairing.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft – the cargo version of this craft has already traveled to the ISS seven times (six operational fights under CRS and one demonstration flight under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract).

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida after completion of its mission. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceFlight Insider reached out to SpaceX to gain the company’s view on the likelihood that the Falcon 9 / Dragon system the firm uses will be selected. The Hawthorne, California-based firm declined to comment, stating they weren’t commenting before the award was announced.

Under the current phase of CRS, Orbital ATK and SpaceX have been awarded $1.9 billion and $1.6 billion respectively to deliver cargo, experiments and crew supplies to the orbiting lab. While both aerospace firms have successfully carried out 8 operational missions total under CRS (as well as two flights to the station under NASA’s COTS contract) – they have also experienced setbacks.

On Oct. 28, 2014, an Orbital ATK Antares booster exploded some 15 seconds into the Orb-3 mission due to a failure in the Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 engine’s Liquid Oxygen (LO2) turbopump. This resulted in the loss of the rocket and Cygnus spacecraft that it carried. NASA recently released its report on the accident noting the cause was likely the turbopump in the AJ26. For their part, Aerojet Rocketdyne has paid some $50 million and reclaimed ten AJ26 engines that were to be used on future flights of Antares (Orbital ATK has moved away from AJ26 to the RD-181 rocket engine and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s involvement with Antares has come to a close). The Cygnus that carried out the Orb-3 accident was carried with 5,057 lbs (2,296 kg) of supplies.

Eight months to the day of the Antares mishap, a SpaceX Falcon 9 disintegrated some two minutes and nineteen seconds into flight. This resulted in the complete loss of the booster and Dragon spacecraft as well as the International Docking Adapter, spacesuit, experiments and other supplies bound for the space station. All total, the CRS-7 Dragon loaded some 5,275 lbs (2,393 kg) of cargo. A strut in the rocket’s second stage has been determined to have been the root cause of that accident.

Both Orbital ATK and SpaceX have seen their contracts under the first phase of CRS extended at least through the first quarter of 2018. Whereas SpaceX is planning on returning an uprated version of their Falcon 9 booster to service before the end of 2015, Orbital ATK has worked to ensure it can fulfill its contractual obligations under CRS.

The Dulles, Virginia-based firm has purchased two ULA Atlas V 401 rockets which will loft two enhanced Cygnus spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. The first of these missions, OA-4, is currently slated to take place on Dec. 3, 2015.

“[…] we will continue to respond to any additional NASA requests for information. In the meantime, we are 100 percent focused on our upcoming CRS-1 missions and returning Antares to flight in early 2016,” Orbital ATK’s Sean Wilson told SpaceFlight Insider.

Under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract, those proposals that are selected will be required to ferry some 31,000 to 37,000 lbs (14,000 to 17,000 kg) of pressurized cargo per year via four-to-five flights to the space station. In terms of unpressurized cargo, they will need to send 3,300 to 8,800 lbs (1,500 to 4,000 kg) to the ISS. Each one of them has individual power requirements as well as other stipulations including ground support operations.

Video Courtesy of SNC Space Systems


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

The CRS program had always been a mind-boggling abuse of funds. NASA already has Orion, which is both customizable and reusable for both short hops to the ISS and the Moon. It never needed both programs, but instead should always have backing private enterprises.

First of all, NASA has to build whatever the President and the Congress compromises on. For all intents and purposes Bush’s VSE has been altered. The Ares I/LEO Orion program has become the Commercial Crew Program. However, the Ares V/Orion became the SLS/Orion. The current version of Orion, being optimized for a BEO capsule, is not designed to launch supplies and crew to the ISS. However, you can theorize that the CCP’s Starliner, Crew Dragon, CRS’s Cygnus & Dragon Supply, and their launch vehicles have taken over the “Lite Orion” concept. This is a far better position for NASA to be in because no future President or Congress can cancel the privatized manned LEO craft. The government only has control of SLS/Orion.

Hi, Gary! Long time no see! 😀

Your “private enterprises” reference is a bit mysterious. Lockheed-Martin builds Orion. SpaceX builds Dragon. ATK builds Cygnus. All three are “private enterprises.” I see no obvious basis for any one of the three to be considered more “private enterprise-y” than the others. Perhaps you would care to clarify?

I also don’t see how CRS was any sort of “abuse of funds” – “mind-boggling” or otherwise. Under CRS, NASA contracted for development and operation of two launch vehicles and two cargo delivery/return craft. For a relative pittance, mark both as mission accomplished. Since 2012 NASA has had two generations of Falcon 9-Dragon available and is about to get a third. Since 2013 it has had Antares-Cygnus and is about to get a 2nd generation of these craft as well.

What NASA does not have yet is Orion. A single engineering test article flew once in late 2014. Since then, it has been announced that the Orion thermal protection system is to be substantially redesigned. Lockheed-Martin has only very recently announced that it is beginning fabrication of the first full-up test version of a complete Orion for flight no sooner than three years hence. Despite consuming vastly larger sums of NASA money than the CRS craft, and having done so for far longer, the pace of Orion development has been, to put it as nicely as possible, leisurely.

Nor will Orion, should it actually complete development and reach flight status, be at all relevant to the CRS target of ISS resupply. The only extant rocket that can launch Orion to the ISS is the Delta IV Heavy, a launch vehicle several times as expensive as the Falcon 9 or Antares.

Between them, SpaceX and Orbital conduct roughly a half-dozen resupply flights to the ISS per year. Orion cannot replace Dragon and Cygnus for this purpose because the production capacity does not exist to build a half-dozen Delta IV Heavies per year and NASA has, in any case, no budget to purchase them.

Then there is the additional complication that Orion was not designed as a cargo carrier nor to be a visitor to the ISS. Orion has no docking hardware compatible with either the crew or cargo delivery ports on the ISS and is not equipped with docking/proximity operations hardware and software.

You may well prove to be correct in your notion that NASA never needed both the CRS craft and Orion, but I think you err in suggesting that it is the former which are superfluous.

I agree with your points and would add that ULA wishes to phase out Delta IV, due to its relatively high cost. That may very well increase the cost of any subsequent Delta IV Heavy orders if the “single stick” Delta IV does stop flying. In other words, using Orion to replace either Commercial Crew or Commercial Cargo would surely be hideously expensive.

If anything, SLS/Orion is the biggest “abuse of funds” at NASA. How many billions have been spent with no SLS launches and with only one unmanned test flight of Orion? Compare that to the combined costs of Commercial Crew and Commercial Cargo and it becomes crystal clear where the pork is the fattest.

I for the most part agree with Dick and Jeff except that Orion originally was planned as a Mars bound spacecraft after a number of flights that would lead up to what was called The Plymouth Rock Mission. The first step was an ISS docking mission. The second was a Hubble service Mission, then the Plymouth Rock Mission which was a mission to an asteroid. That Mission was changed to the current ARRM mission (ASTEROID REDIRECT MISSION). I still think the asteroid mission makes more sense than ARRM or a lengthy mission to Mar’s moon Deimos.
The record time in space is 14 months by a Russian and 7 months by astronaut Scott Kelly who is currently on ISS for a one year stay. Going to Deimos could take years round trip, and an asteroid mission would be months. The ARRM mission is well thought out and achieves a lot of goals, but it stops short of an extended space mission leading up to Mars. In my opinion only a fast track propulsion system makes any sense going to Mars, and returning astronauts without serious physical damage. I want to see a Mars mission happen, but not a suicide mission to bury someone there.

Orion has had all the missions you mention, but I think your timeline may be a little jumbled. Orion was originally part of the Constellation program and was intended to be a lunar-oriented crew carrier, like its Apollo predecessor. As with Apollo, it was intended to be accompanied on its lunar missions by a separate lander craft. Orion only has life-support capability for three weeks, but for short term Apollo-like lunar missions this would have been adequate.

The Mars mission for Orion was essentially invented out of whole cloth by the U.S. Congress when it mandated the SLS program in an effort to keep as much of Constellation going as it could, but with at least a nod to President Obama’s explicit ruling out of any preparations for a U.S. return to the Moon on his watch. Orion’s 3-week life support endurance is obviously totally inadequate to support a month’s-long journey to Mars and another such journey back to Earth. Orion is also too cramped and sanitationally-challenged for a full crew to spend months in its restricted confines. Some kind of large hab module is needed to make even a bare-bones Mars trip possible, but the SLS/Orion program has no such module in the works. It also has no lander yet planned.

If NASA ever gets its asteroidal boulder-fetching mission accomplished and Orion ever flies with a crew, the lunar parking orbit for the returned boulder is likely to be as far from Earth as the unaugmented Orion ever gets.

Yes I have read about a number of habitation modules including Bigalow’s. I have also read about a thousand day mission to Phobos which seems like a suicide mission to me. Nobody knows what effect three years in space will have on our anatomy. Without a higher speed propulsion system I really don’t see it working. The Plymouth Rock Mission used two Orions with a service module that still looked to cramped to me even with only two astronauts. It still would have been around a year long voyage which we at least know is possible. Orion has the benefit of bringing astronauts back to earth safely, and on a Mars mission it could be a backup command module if anything else is ever seriously designed. Why nuclear propulsion engines are such a hot issue I really don’t understand. The Voyagers, and New Horizon are both nuclear, and so is the sun for that matter.

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