NASA delays CRS 2 awards again, drops Boeing from consideration
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.
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.
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).
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, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.