[/caption]A Chicago-based space launch partnership has formally lodged a complaint against NASA’s decision to give space station supply contracts to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences late last year. PlanetSpace, a joint effort by space contractors Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co. and Alliant Techsystems Inc., has formally filed a complaint with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). PlanetSpace is angry with the US space agency as they believe they presented NASA with a better resupply deal than SpaceX and Orbital.
NASA has been given 30 days to respond to the complaint and the GAO has said it won’t make a ruling until April 29th. Unfortunately this means NASA will have to halt drawing up the ISS supply contracts until the matter has been resolved.
Just when we thought it was going so well…
At a time when the burgeoning commercial space flight industry thought it was beginning to build up some serious momentum, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have suffered a bump in the road. On December 23rd, 2008 the two companies were celebrating the fact they had secured the largest supply contracts available. NASA agreed to buy 12 flights from SpaceX (for $1.6 billion) and eight flights from Orbital Sciences ($1.9 billion). However, according to PlanetSpace, the partnership offered NASA a better deal than one of the two companies awarded, saying they could do the same job for cheaper.
“The PlanetSpace proposal represented better value to the government. We believe that the GAO will find that flaws in the procurement justify award to PlanetSpace. We look forward to the GAO’s review of this case,” PlanetSpace said in a statement on Thursday.
So far, the GAO has declined to comment on the situation, just stating that NASA had 30 days to respond to the complaint. It won’t be until the end of April that a decision will be made.
NASA decided to use US-based commercial spaceflight companies instead of depending on the Russian Progress vehicle to launch cargo to the International Space Station after the Shuttle is retired in 2010.
Of the two companies, it seems likely that PlanetSpace may be contesting the $1.9 billion contract awarded to Orbital Sciences (in my opinion). Orbital, although a well-established space flight company, is offering less flights for more money than SpaceX (also, the Cygnus space vehicle can carry less cargo than the SpaceX Dragon capsule). However, it is difficult to know where the problem is at this stage.
We’ll just have to wait and see. On a positive note, at least we have several private spaceflight companies wrangling for NASA contracts. Already, business is seeing the advantages (and profitability) of pushing into space, if contracts have to be disputed along the way, so be it.