NASA ISS Supply Contracts to SpaceX and Orbital On Hold

Article written: 15 Jan , 2009
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

[/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.

Source: Reuters


21 Responses

  1. Silver Thread says

    Eh…rubbish. Damn. See to smaller companies whis contract represents success or failure while to Boeing it represnts a marginal increase in market share.

  2. Astrofiend says

    A__holes. Trust Lockheed and Boeing to get in there and try to crush the little up-and-comers/innovators. I hope they choke!

  3. Schultz says

    Greedy spoiled bastards…. They already got a shit load of money to develop Aries I and V. Now its as if they want to eliminate the competition.

    I agree with your opinion, Ian. PlanetSpace could be competing for Orbital’s share for COTS, and I do find it very fishy that Orbital is getting MORE MONEY with:

    -Less launches

    -And a rocket with half the power of Falcon 9.

    Fishy eh?

    Although do I hope PlanetSpace is not after the entire pie. If they are, I hope NASA tells them to go back to Chicago.

  4. von Dawson's Express says

    Sounds familier….

    “Under contract to NASA, Hughes Aircraft built the all important Surveyor spacecrafts. Hughes had made a deal with NASA whereby he would be fully reimbursed and even gain a profit even if Surveyor failed in its purpose to soft land on the moon. The Hughes Aircraft management spent so little time on the project that it threatened to be a public scandal until after four years NASA finally forced their hands.
    An estimated $50 million cost rose to $190 million with little achieved. When the JPL investigated Hughes’s work, they were appalled with his management. The result was a hopelessly inefficient spacecraft.
    One Surveyor crashed and burned; another was damaged beyond repair. The final costs escalated to $469 million of taxpayers’ money. On top of this vast profit on a wretched craft, Hughes got $20 million in fees on top, which amounted to $345 million.
    Hughes was excited when his first Surveyor landed on the moon on 2 June, 1966 in the Ocean of Storms. His publicity machine and a friendly press buried the the fact that the landing was three years late and had stripped NASA of much of its budget.”

    A very good friend of mine sent me this earlier this week. Guess nowt changes…

  5. iontruo2 says

    At http://www.planetspace.org/lo/silver_dart.htm there is a nice page showcasing an up and coming product called the Silver Dart. Seems to me to be way ahead of the other more old school products being offered.

    Just the opening comment of the article gives a hint what is finally started to be disclosed.

    “The Silver Dart is an autonomous and flexible hypersonic glider designed to operate as an orbital vehicle. It extends the capabilities of the booster to provide access to LEO. It is designed to double as an unmanned or manned spacecraft and can provide for a long duration platform in orbit. Based on the FDL-7 design which is stable in flight from Mach 22 to 0, the Silver Dart has the glide range of 25,000 miles (one earth circumference) with a cross range of over 4,000 miles. Such a glide performance provides for departure from any LEO and landing in the continental US with no wait time on orbit. An all metal thermal protection system allows for all weather flying. Combined, the thermal protection system and glide range result in a reentry vehicle that cannot be trapped in space and is able to return to base from any orbit around the Earth.”

    ….and they say “The vehicle will serve multiple purposes, from rapid point-to-point cargo delivery to space tourism service.”

    Stable at mach 22?! Now there was more between the lines but I must say it is becoming truly laughable that large branches of the space science programs are still clunking along with the old technology effort. Come on people, it has already been showcased elsewhere hints of just how much of technology has been repressed. I think they like to call it a “truth embargo” but now is the time to disclose and move forward with the other levels of propulsion tech and examples like the Silver Dart in regards to flight vehicles. This is the commercial ‘public’ level and it needs to crawl past the constraints on the higher tech and stop being so entangled down in the old school. Old school does not mean easy but there is surely much more advanced human tech than is being shown. Lets stop the dumb down.

  6. Collin S says

    Alright look, most NASA contracts are disputed by the losers so this comes as no surprise whatsoever. This is just the reality of trying to win government contracts. If the “little up-and-comers” want to play in the big leagues (which I fully support), this is the deal. Get used to it. When the award for GPSIII got disputed, nobody put up a big stink then.

    I guarantee these commercial space companies will dispute an award that is not in their favor in the future and nobody will accuse them of trying to monopolize the market. All this is, is companies trying to win as many contracts as possible to be as successful as possible.

  7. Collin S says

    By the way, I don’t want to take anything away from SpaceX and companies like it. It is GREAT to see NASA actually utilizing American commercial space companies. This is an exciting time.

  8. Slava33 says

    Boeing got emboldened by their successful challenge to the AF tanker contract award, now they are challenging everything: this, GOES, what next?

  9. formulaterp says

    Collin S Says:

    “It is GREAT to see NASA actually utilizing American commercial space companies.”

    What do you mean by that? They’ve been doing it for over 50 years.

  10. gopher65 says

    I’m also curious as to why Orbital Sciences is being chosen, when they’re charging twice as much per launch as SpaceX.

    Does anyone know the answer? Is it a simple case of NASA not yet wanting to rely too much on SpaceX’s unproven technology?

  11. Simon says

    Space the american way

  12. Maxwell says

    This is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect since the great tanker debate of the elections. Whoever loses out on a contract is going to make a legal challenge for a second, third, or fourth chance to fail.

    In this case both Orbital and SpaceX have displayed their ability to make these new rockets, troubleshoot their creations, and reach orbit with at least some savings.
    Orbital is King of the air launched Pegasus and the sure bet. SpaceX is the newcomer out to change how we look at launch costs, a worthy risk.

    You could say that Lockheed and friends have also displayed their space prowess… but not in this arena.
    They failed to deliver on SSTO, they haven’t built a low cost platform before, and their projects are notorious for coming in over weight, over budget, and behind schedule.

    Unless planetspace can make some demonstration of their serious intent to compete, I don’t think they have an argument to make.

  13. Patrick Carrasco says

    Come on folks!
    Are we too cautious to say we’d like the “little guys” to win? Our innocent and creative iconoclastic achievements are what gives America pizzazzzzz! We should always cheer those who overcome the odds.
    If Boeing or Lockheed, or any of the old timers, showed that they could think creatively without raping the taxpayers, I’d say they were part of the pizzazzzzz.
    Alas.

  14. von Dawson's Express says

    Maxwell, u say ‘Orbital is King of the air launched Pegasus’, ain’t Pegasus the ONLY air launched system…

    Trouble with industry is one word ‘Corruption’ – its all about making as much money as possible, screwing the little guy and stuff the tax payer. I sometimes wonder where we would be if NASA built all its own hardware in house and did not touch the big companies with a barge pole…

  15. Maxwell says

    @ von Dawson’s Express

    They are not the only one to propose air launches. T/Space and Rutan also intended to go this route. I’m sure there are a dozen others.

    My personal benchmark is to see hardware in the air, and Orbital has about 40 air launches under its belt with a few additional ground launches.
    In an industry rife with vaporware there is a big difference between building rockets and talking about building rockets. So both them and SpaceX are ahead in my view.

    Planetspace has a right to compete for contracts but they need to do more than summon lawyers after a round of awards are made.
    We want companies that can put things uphill, not ones that just bitch about the competition.

    Halting the process is destructive to the COTS goal and disruptive to everyone’s launch schedules.
    On that grounds alone I’d have see them ruled out as a competitor …if it was my call to make.

  16. Chuck Lam says

    ‘The big guys complaining that they should get the business awarded to the little guys.’ Don’t think so! That can’t happen in America. Gawd forbid someone audaciously suggests the biggies are greedy. And NASA in all their wisdom . . . opps! . . . gawd! . . . I’m losing it! I forgot for a moment it is a government agency. What am I thinking!

  17. Invader Xan says

    Oh boo hoo.

    They should grow up and accept it like anyone else, not grumble like schoolkids when they don’t get chosen.

    If they can manage spaceflight so cheaply, why don’t they go about it anyway, as a private enterprise?

  18. Collin S says

    @ formulaterp:

    That is true considering Lockheed and Boeing are commercial space companies. My comment was more aimed at the fact they chose a “younger” commercial space company. The more companies that are developing this technology, the healthier the space business/NASA will be.

  19. von Dawson's Express says

    Hi Maxwell,

    U R sooooo reet…

    ‘We want companies that can put things uphill..’

    Bests von Dawson’s Express

  20. Russell L Heyder says

    PlanetSpace.org is not cleared for space operations of this security-magnitude! SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have helped to secure earth from a killer comet. That’s a done deal. Future history will explain why this is true.
    Now planetspace has commandeered the dragon space station –heaven help us!!!!

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