Sierra Nevada Lodges GAO Protest Over Dream Chaser Loss

Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

On Friday, Sierra Nevada Corporation lodged a formal complaint with the GAO regarding its loss with the Dream Chaser spaceplane in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The challenge was not unexpected, and as the press release included below indicates, is largely based on the considerable price differential between SpaceX and Boeing at $2.6 and $4.2 billion respectively.

Sierra Nevada Press Release:

SPARKS, Nev. (Sept. 26, 2014) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced today that it has filed a legal challenge to the award of contracts to Boeing and SpaceX under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program. The CCtCap program will restore U.S. transportation capability to the International Space Station.

SNC, Boeing and SpaceX submitted separate proposals for the CCtCap program. While all three competitors were found to be compliant and awardable under the criteria set forth in the request for proposal (RFP), only two proposals were selected (Boeing and SpaceX), one of which would result in a substantial increased cost to the public despite near equivalent technical and past performance scores.

In its 51 year history SNC has never filed a legal challenge to a government contract award. However, in the case of the CCtCap award, NASA’s own Source Selection Statement and debrief indicate that there are serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process. SNC, therefore, feels that there is no alternative but to institute a legal challenge.

The company believes that, in this time of critical budget limits, it is more important than ever to deliver the best value to the American public. 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. Given those facts, we believe that a thorough review must be conducted of the award decision. The company feels it owes this extra effort to their employees, the over 30 Dream Team U.S. industry partners, 10 university partners, 10 international space agency and industry partners – all of whom believe in Dream Chaser® and that the proposal that was submitted by SNC is the best choice for NASA and the American public.

Importantly, the official NASA solicitation for the CCtCap contract prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria for the proposals, setting it equal to the combined value of the other two primary evaluation criteria: mission suitability and past performance. SNC’s Dream Chaser proposal was the second lowest priced proposal in the CCtCap competition. SNC’s proposal also achieved mission suitability scores comparable to the other two proposals. In fact, out of a possible 1,000 total points, the highest ranked and lowest ranked offerors were separated by a minor amount of total points and other factors were equally comparable.

SNC’s Dream Chaser design provides a wider range of capabilities and value including preserving the heritage of the space shuttle program through its design as a piloted, reusable, lifting-body spacecraft that embodies the advanced technologies of today and flexibility that enables the innovations of the future. It was also the only vehicle remaining in the Commercial Crew Program that was not a capsule.

SNC’s filing seeks a further detailed review and evaluation of the submitted proposals and capabilities. SNC takes the nation’s human spaceflight capability and taxpayer’s money very seriously. SNC believes the result of further evaluation of the proposals submitted will be that America ends up with a more capable vehicle, at a much lower cost, with a robust and sustainable future.

End Release

Note: NASA has 30 days to respond to the protest, and GAO is required to issue a decision within 100 days. While the SNC Dream Chaser, so evocative of the Shuttle, has clearly captured the imagination of a number of people within the space community, it may be that nearly last minute change in its propulsion system from hybrid to liquid engines threw up a red flag that the space plane still holds too much development risk for a program which will be pressed to meet a late 2017 first flight.

NASA has yet to release a Source Selection document, and whenever it does, some questions regarding the Dream Chaser exclusion will be answered.  Others however, most assuredly will not.

Nevertheless, with NASA also releasing its RFP for the second round of Commercial Resupply contracts last week as well, Sierra Nevada may stand an excellent chance of securing the cost advantage it claims over Boeing on automated delivery flights, while gaining the additional consideration of offering a gentler return profile combined with runway landing at the Kennedy Space Center.


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1 Comment on "Sierra Nevada Lodges GAO Protest Over Dream Chaser Loss"

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  1. Given NASA’s published criteria for selection, I’d say SNC has a case here. When price is 50% of the weight, it’s hard to see how one can justify the highest-cost (by far) entrant winning the bid. Especially when NASA itself says SNC’s bid was compliant and awardable.

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