Protest Delays NASA Commercial Crew Spacecraft Work: Report

NASA told two companies to halt work on the next phase of its commercial crew program — the spacecraft expected to replace Russian ones ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station — because of a protest related to the contract award, according to media reports.

Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) filed a complaint on Sept. 26, shortly after its Dream Chaser shuttle-like design was not selected for further funding under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) phase of the program. Competitors SpaceX and Boeing each received billions of dollars for further development for their Dragon and CST-100 spacecraft, which are expected to start flying around 2017.

A Spaceflight Now report, quoting NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz, said the agency told both selectees that they must “stop performance of the CCtCap contract” pending the result of the challenge, which is before the Government Accountability Office. The office’s deadline for a response is Jan. 5, the report said.

In a statement, SNC said this is the first fight it undertook in relation to a government contract in more than five decades of operations. “Inconsistencies” in the process, SNC added, prompted it to go forward with the protest:

Importantly, the official NASA solicitation for the CCtCap contract prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria for the proposals, setting it equal to the combined value of the other two primary evaluation criteria: mission suitability and past performance. SNC’s Dream Chaser proposal was the second lowest priced proposal in the CCtCap competition. SNC’s proposal also achieved mission suitability scores comparable to the other two proposals. In fact, out of a possible 1,000 total points, the highest ranked and lowest ranked offerors were separated by a minor amount of total points and other factors were equally comparable.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden declined to comment on the situation last week in response to questions from reporters at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, Canada, citing the legal situation.