NASA has delayed awarding the next round of contracts for shuttling cargo to the International Space Station, probably until January.
It’s also cut Boeing and possibly Lockheed Martin from the list of contenders for a piece of the funding, expected to total up to $14 billion. But because of NASA’s public “blackout” on news of the process, it was unclear if those aerospace mainstays might be allowed to address concerns and jump back into the mix.
Boeing confirmed it’s been notified by NASA that its Starliner cargo craft has been cut from consideration for cargo shipments.
“We are requesting a formal debrief from NASA and will determine a path forward after that debrief is completed,” Boeing spokesperson Kelly Kaplan said. “We believe the Crew Space Transportation-100 Cargo Starliner offers the best balance of reliability and value to resupply the International Space Station, leveraging Boeing’s crewed CST-100 Starliner design as well as the company’s 50 years of space experience.”
Lockheed issued a brief statement about its ISS cargo-shuttling submission and also underscored its interest in participating in eventual deep-space missions.
“We’re not going to comment on the status of pending procurements (but) we submitted our proposal in December of last year (and) NASA expects to announce the winner or winners in January,” the company said. “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 (and our) solution is designed to lay the groundwork for all of those important capabilities.”
NASA said only that it has revised the anticipated award date for the next round of cargo-shuttle contracts to “no later than Jan. 30.” The next round of contracts under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program –- often referred to as CRS-2 contracts — will run from 2018 to 2024.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Orbital ATK predecessor Orbital Sciences were awarded up to $3.1 billion each in the original round of CRS contracts in 2008 –- dubbed CRS-1 — for a combined 20 cargo missions. NASA awarded an additional three CRS-1 missions to SpaceX and one to Orbital last March to cover cargo delivery needs through 2017.
SpaceX and Orbital remain in the hunt for CRS-2 despite two mission failures due to rocket explosions — SpaceX’s occurring on June 28 and Orbital’s on Oct. 28, 2014. Both companies hope soon to emerge from post-blast launch hiatuses.
There’s also a first-time entrant in the chase for CRS-2: Louisville-based Sierra Nevada Space Systems has proposed using its new folding-wing spaceship, Dream Chaser, for cargo shuttles to the ISS.
Meantime, NASA said it intends to award CRS-2 missions to just two companies. But some speculate the recent mission failures by SpaceX and Orbital might prompt the space agency to split its next round of awards among three companies.
Separately, Boeing and SpaceX hold NASA contracts for shuttling astronauts to the space station. Those future missions are valued at up to $4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX, with funding via the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
The manned missions originally were set to begin in 2017 but may be pushed to a 2018 start. Russian space agency Roscosmos has shuttled all astronauts to the ISS in recent years and will continue to do so until Boeing and SpaceX commence their initial missions.