Sierra Nevada Challenges NASA Awards of Space Taxi Projects to Boeing, SpaceX2 min read

Sierra Nevada Corp. said it filed a formal protest over NASA’s choice of Boeing Co.BA +1.22% and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to separately build, test and operate commercial space taxis, a decision that left the closely-held Nevada aerospace company out of the initiative.

In its announcement Friday, Sierra Nevada said the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s decision last week “would result in a substantial increased cost to the public despite near equivalent technical and past performance scores.”

The company also said NASA’s own selection document and debrief “indicate that there are serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process.”

A NASA spokeswoman said the agency wouldn’t have any comment while the protest is pending with the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO must determine if the protest is valid, a process that can take months.

According to Sierra Nevada, the U.S. government stands to spend as much as $900 million more for a transportation system to take U.S. astronauts to low-earth orbit that it would if it awarded the job to Sierra Nevada.

Sierra Nevada was the only bidder to propose a winged vehicle able to land on a runway during its return trip from the international space station.

Boeing was awarded a contract that could total $4.2 billion and SpaceX was awarded a contract that could be worth as much as $2. 6 billion. NASA officials haven’t publicly detailed the criteria they used or how the three companies ranked on technical, management and cost issues.

Sierra Nevada lagged behind the other two bidders in some technical rankings, according to people familiar with the details. In its release, the company said its submission was the second-lowest-priced proposal and “also achieved mission suitability scores comparable to the other two proposals.”

NASA already has turned cargo trips to the space station over to contractors, and now it seeks to have industry build, test and operate rockets and vehicles designed to take U.S. astronauts to the orbiting international laboratory starting in 2017.

Since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet three years ago, the agency has relied on Russian hardware for manned trips to the space station. The current price is about $70 million a seat.

Sebastien Clarke
Sebastien Clarke

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