NASA calls upon commercial firms to serve space station
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: December 23, 2008
Orbital Sciences Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies - SpaceX - today won NASA contracts valued at up to $1.9 billion and $1.6 billion respectively for 20 unmanned space station cargo flights to deliver experiment hardware, crew supplies and replacement components after the space shuttle is retired.
A NASA news release said the "fixed-price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts will begin Jan. 1, 2009, and are effective through Dec. 31, 2016. The contracts each call for the delivery of a minimum of 20 metric tons of up-mass cargo to the space station. The contracts also call for delivery of non-standard services in support of the cargo resupply, including analysis and special tasks as the government determines are necessary.
"NASA has set production milestones and reviews on the contracts to monitor progress toward providing services," the release said. "The maximum potential value of each contract is about $3.1 billion. Based on known requirements, the value of both contracts combined is projected at $3.5 billion."
In a statement, David Thompson, Orbital's chairman and chief executive officer, said: "We are very appreciative of the trust NASA has placed with us to provide commercial cargo transportation services to and from the international space station, beginning with our demonstration flight scheduled in late 2010. "The CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) program will serve as a showcase for the types of commercial services U.S. space companies can offer NASA."
Said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX: "The SpaceX team is honored to have been selected by NASA as the winner of the Cargo Resupply Services contract. This is a tremendous responsibility, given the swiftly approaching retirement of the space shuttle and the significant future needs of the space station."
Losing out in today's contract award was PlanetSpace, a partnership between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Alliant Techsystems Inc., or ATK.
PlanetSpace proposed building a new rocket called the Athena 3, made up of a scaled-down shuttle booster and solid-fuel upper stages. Orbital Sciences is developing a two-stage Taurus 2 booster equipped with Russian-built liquid-fueled first stage engines and a solid-fuel upper stage, along with a new cargo carrier called Cygnus. SpaceX proposed its Falcon 9 rocket and a new cargo carrier called Dragon.
The Taurus and Falcon rockets are in various stages of development, thanks in part to earlier NASA funding under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, or COTS, but have not flown any complete missions yet.
"We're looking at potentially 12 flights from SpaceX valued at $1.6 billion," Gerstenmaier said. "And we're looking at eight flights from Orbital Space Corp. valued at about $1.9 billion. ... This includes return cargo, it includes both pressurized cargo that flies on the inside of the modules as well as cargo that's on the outside."
"In terms of the specific equipment that'll be on the flights, we haven't defined that yet," he said. "We have a template to work with the providers as we get closer to the launch date to add in the right mix of cargo. But it'll be a variety of things, from science experiments to basic crew supplies to orbital replacement units that may have failed on board space station. It'll be a whole variety of cargo."
"We also look at the management structures of the individual companies to see how they're put together, do they have the right management structure that can deliver to the schedule?" Gerstenmaier said. "And then we look at cost. We take those factors, evaluate those and these two contractors came out superior when I go look at those three factors combined."
The contracts were awarded now, ahead of flight tests for the new rocket systems, because "this is cargo capability we really need starting in 2010 for space station."
"If we waited until all these things were proven and known, the development lead time for these new vehicles was so long we couldn't get the cargo to space station that we needed," Gerstenmaier said. "So we didn't really have much choice but essentially to go into this procurement right now to have a chance of having the cargo available when we need it. So we needed to essentially take companies we thought had a good chance of making it, had good sound plans, good technical proposals, good management structures and ... enable them to go deliver cargo to station."
NASA currently plans to retire the space shuttle in 2010, after finishing assembly of the international space station. The agency is developing a new Ares 1 rocket system using shuttle- and Apollo-derived systems, along with a large crew capsule called Orion. But the new manned launch system will not be available until 2014 or 2015 at the earliest and it will not be able to carry much in the way of cargo.
To keep the space station operational, NASA is trying to secure alternative launch services on a commercial basis to augment Russian, European and Japanese resupply missions.
A detailed story on the plans by Orbital Sciences, PlanetSpace and SpaceX is posted here.