NASA acted properly in awarding $6.8 billion to the Boeing Co. and SpaceX for a new generation of commercial space vans to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, the Government Accountability Office ruled Monday. The GAO rejected a challenge to last September's award that was filed by Sierra Nevada Corp., a spaceship-builder that lost out in the competition.
Sierra Nevada claimed that the rules for the contest were changed in midstream to put more emphasis on the ability to meet a 2017 deadline for putting the new spacecraft into operation, and that its bid should have won out over Boeing's higher bid. The GAO, however, said that the concern over schedule risk was included in the initial request for bids, and that there was "no undue emphasis" on that criterion. Boeing was awarded $4.2 billion for work on its CST-100 capsule, while SpaceX is due to get $2.6 billion to make its Dragon capsule capable of carrying crew. Work on both projects is already well under way, thanks in part to previous NASA funding.
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Update for 4 p.m. ET Jan. 5: The GAO held back on releasing its full decision due to proprietary concerns, but NASA took note of the decision in a written statement:
"NASA is pleased the GAO's decision allows the agency to move forward and continue working with Boeing and SpaceX on the Launch America initiative that will enable safe and reliable crew transportation to and from the International Space Station on American spacecraft launched from the United States, ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for such transportation. The case remains under the protective order and blackout until the GAO releases its decision."
Update for 5:30 p.m. ET Jan. 5: In a written statement, Sierra Nevada Corp. said it was "evaluating the GAO decision" and would continue with development of its Dream Chaser space plane in league with its industrial partners:
"... SNC firmly believes that the Dream Chaser will play a central role in shaping the future of space transportation with its unique capabilities which address a wide spectrum of needs. To that end, SNC has submitted its response to NASA’s Commercial Cargo Resupply Services 2 procurement and will continue to support that effort while maintaining its existing mutually beneficial and long-term relationship with NASA."
— Alan Boyle