It could be an exciting second half of the week for several aerospace companies.
After three delays for unspecified reasons, NASA may finally be ready to announce the winners of its Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract for ongoing supply of the International Space Station. Industry analyst Charles Lurio is suggesting the awards could come as soon as Thursday.
Some in DC saying very likely that the winners of the second set of ISS cargo supply contracts to be announced Thursday (CRS-2).
— Charles A. Lurio (@TheLurioReport) January 11, 2016
The stakes are considerable, with the awards covering a time-frame which could stretch as far out as December 31st, 2024 and carry a cumulative cost cap of $14 billion dollars.
Of the original five companies which were known to have submitted bids back in December 2014, two are apparently out already. The first was Lockheed Martin, whose Jupiter/Exoliner proposal was reportedly nixed over the summer due to costs. Next came Boeing, which proposed an automated version of the CST-100/Starliner capsule which was a winner under NASA’s entirely separate Commercial Crew program.
According to reports from early November when the latest delay was announced, the same process which saw Boeing eliminated also saw Sierra Nevada notified that its Dream Chaser space plane was receiving renewed consideration for a decision date which officially remains listed as no later than the end of January. With price, according to program documents, being the single greatest factor, SpaceX can be regarded as a near certainty based on its $133 million per flight average over the 12 launches which comprised the original CRS-1 order.
It is also highly unlikely that Orbital-ATK will not receive an award as well. For NASA, which will see its first launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 under the NLS program as part of the Jason-3 mission on Sunday, an award to Orbital-ATK would have the additional benefit of securing the future of the re-powered Antares booster as well. The space agency has previously indicated the inclusion of a new medium class rocket to the nation’s stable of available boosters would be a desirable outcome.
What remains to be seen, and what may be revealed later this week, is whether or not the desire to hang on to the legacy of the Shuttle in the form of the Dream Chaser mini-me is strong enough to outweigh other considerations and the uncertainty of an unproven solution. For what it is worth, there is an on-ramp provision for alternative proposals which could offer a glimmer of hope for Sierra Nevada if Dream Chaser doesn’t land in the winner’s circle whenever the awards are announced.
It is a more literal sort of landing which could capture the world’s attention this week however. After completing a static test fire on Monday, Elon Musk officially confirmed that SpaceX will attempt to land the Falcon 9 first stage at sea during the course of the Jason-3 launch.
Aiming to launch this weekend and (hopefully) land on our droneship. Ship landings needed for high velocity missions https://t.co/n6j0mExAqM
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 12, 2016
There is more than a little relevance to the CRS-2 proposal here. Although SpaceX had obviously yet to recover a Falcon first stage at the time the CRS-2 bids were turned in, and presumably still doesn’t know the practical cost of re-flying a recovered stage in any case, the CRS-2 program does allow for the option of vendor supplied price reductions in the future.
In the meantime, here is SpaceX released recap of last month’s historic landing.