Earlier this month, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that it is awarding a multibillion contract to Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) and aircraft manufacturer Boeing to build space taxis that will deliver astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA's decision did not apparently please everyone. Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the other bidder that did not make the cut to provide private crew spaceflights under the U.S. space agency's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program, is not taking its rejection lightly. The company has filed a formal protest with the government to block the space taxi deal worth $6.8 billion over "serious questions and inconsistencies" in the selection process.
The Nevada-based company filed its protest with the Government Accountability Office on Friday claiming that its proposal, the second-lowest priced, would have saved the government as much as $900 million and that it was almost equivalent on technical aspects when compared with those of Boeing and SpaceX.
"With the current awards, the U.S. government would spend up to $900 million more at the publicly announced contracted level for a space program equivalent to the program that SNC proposed," SNC said in a statement adding that a thorough review of the award decision should be conducted. "The proposal that was submitted by SNC is the best choice for NASA and the American public."
SNC intended to ferry astronauts to low Earth orbit with its Dream Chaser, a reusable miniature shuttle that just like SpaceX's Dragon V2 capsule and Boeing's CST-100 capsule, can carry up to seven astronauts. The Dream Chaser, however, is the only spacecraft that has the ability to land like an airplane on commercial runways once it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, a feature that SNC says has an edge over the use of capsules.
"With capsules, which splash down into an ocean or land on the ground in a remote area, crew and cargo retrieval is more labor intensive, takes longer to complete, and introduces risk, including those related to injured crew or sensitive cargo," SNC posted on its website. "These drawbacks don't exist for runway landings."
NASA is providing funding for private companies to develop spacecraft that could transport astronauts to the low Earth orbit. The aim is to end the dependence of NASA astronauts on Russian spacecraft to take them to and from the ISS since the U.S. space agency stopped the operation of its space shuttle fleet in 2011.