The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has rejected a protest from private space developer Sierra Nevada, which stated that company was treated unfairly when the federal agency awarded contracts. Awards went to SpaceX and Boeing, directing those organizations to manage human spaceflights to the International Space Station (ISS).
Officials from NASA seriously considered Sierra Nevada as a recipient for the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. The complaint alleges that SpaceX is unlikely to maintain the required schedule for deliveries to the space station, and that costs of the Boeing system are excessive.
The Dream Chaser, a space plane looking like a scaled-down version of the now-retired Space Shuttle, is the spacecraft of choice for Sierra Nevada. The vehicle is designed to deliver astronauts to the orbiting outpost, and land on lengthy runways.
"While the outcome was not what SNC expected, we maintain our belief that the Dream Chaser® spacecraft is technically very capable, reliable and was qualified to win based on NASA's high ratings of the space system. We appreciate the time and effort contributed to this process by the GAO and NASA to fully evaluate such a critical decision for the United States," Sierra Nevada officials reported in a press release responding to the decision by the GAO.
SpaceX placed a bid of $1.75 billion for carrying out the missions utilizing its Dragon space capsule. Boeing offered the use of a CST-100 crew vehicle, at a cost of $3.01 billion. The bid from Sierra Nevada for use of the Dream Chaser was $2.55 billion.
"In making its selection decision, NASA concluded that the proposals submitted by Boeing and SpaceX represented the best value to the government ... NASA also recognized several favorable features in the Sierra Nevada and SpaceX proposals, but ultimately concluded that SpaceX's lower price made it a better value than the proposal submitted by Sierra Nevada," the GAO announced.
The GAO also found that Boeing offered the best value for the contract, based on technical plans and abilities.
Flights conducted as part of this contract will provide NASA with the ability to launch astronauts to the space station for the first time since the Space Shuttle program was retired. Since that time, the federal space agency has been forced to rely entirely on the Russian government to launch space travelers to the station, at a cost of $70 million per trip. The first of these flights could launch as early as 2017.
Sierra Nevada officials announced the company "firmly believes that the Dream Chaser will play a central role in shaping the future of space transportation."