NASA has announced the contract award winners for the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) phase of the agency’s ongoing partnership with commercial companies for cargo resupply of the International Space Station. The contact will see SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada – with Dream Chaser – perform resupply runs to Station starting in 2019.
Following the success of the CRS1 contracts with SpaceX and Orbital ATK, NASA officially began the process for CRS2 contract awards, covering flights to the International Space Station (ISS) through to the current end date of the Station’s life in the mid 2020s.
At the time that NASA announced a Request For Proposals (RFPs) for CRS2, it was anticipated that the awards would be announced in early 2015, though that subsequently slipped throughout 2015.
Thursday’s announcement that SpaceX and Orbital ATK have won contracts to continue flying their Dragon and Cygnus vehicles to the Station confirmed their continued participation in commercial space endeavors well into the next decade.
The addition of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to the list of commercial cargo resupply companies will now see SNC’s Dream Chaser mini-Shuttle fly in a cargo configuration for Station resupply runs.
CRS1 award and developments to date:
The first CRS awards to SpaceX and what is now Orbital ATK were announced in late-December 2008 after a multi-year bid and selection process.
Of the companies that competed for awards, the PlanetSpace corporation did not receive a contract from NASA and filed a subsequent protest with the U.S. federal government through the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding the selection process.
The GAO on 22 April 2009 denied the protest; however, the protest itself nonetheless marked what has thus far been a routine scenario for NASA when it awards contracts for commercial endeavors – be they resupply or crew.
The Sierra Nevada Corporation likewise filed a complaint with the GAO following NASA’s decision not to award them a contract for the commercial crew transportation contracts in 2014 – a protest which like PlanetSpace’s was denied by the GAO.
Nonetheless, the first contract awards to SpaceX and Orbital ATK resulted in the first launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket with a mock-up Dragon capsule on 4 June 2010, followed by the first demo of a full-up Dragon on 8 December 2010.
This December 2010 flight of Dragon proved the craft’s ability to perform a multi-orbit mission, receive and respond to ground commands, and maintain solid links with NASA’s TDRS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite) network.
SpaceX then successfully launched the first commercial resupply mission to the ISS on 22 May 2012, with NASA certifying in August 2012 that SpaceX had completed all of the Space Act Agreement requirements to successfully begin CRS1 commercial resupply contract flights to the Space Station.
Orbital ATK likewise followed suit with the development and test flight of their Antares launch vehicle and Cygnus resupply spacecraft.
The Antares rocket made its debut flight on 21 April 2013 with a Cygnus mass simulator payload, leading to the first development flight of Cygnus aboard Antares on 18 September 2013.
Following this successful demonstration and test flight, Orbital ATK and Cygnus performed their first official resupply mission with the ISS on 9 January 2014.
Moreover, following the initial contract awards for a specific number of missions, NASA subsequently amended the CRS1 contract to purchase additional resupply flights from both SpaceX and Orbital ATK – thus ensuring CRS1 resupply efforts before CRS2 resupply contract missions are scheduled to begin.
With the failure of both the CRS-3 Cygnus mission and the CRS-7 Dragon mission during the CRS1 phase flights, NASA’s requirement for ensuring redundancy was evident in the decision to select three partners designed to obtain cargo delivery services to the space station, disposal of unneeded cargo, and the return of research samples and other cargo from the station back to NASA.
The contracts, which begin upon award, guarantee a minimum of six cargo resupply missions from each provider.
The contracts also include funding ISS integration, flight support equipment, special tasks and studies, and NASA requirement changes.
ISS Program Manager Kirk Shireman cited the need for “dissimilar redundancy” – a key selling point previously used by SNC during Dream Chaser’s crew transportation aspirations.
Although the spaceplane missed on NASA’s commercial crew program’s CCtCAP funding, the award of the CRS2 contract was met with joy at the vehicle’s Colorado base.
“This is SNC’s first commercial cargo contract with NASA. SNC already has a world-class team of engineers and scientists in place to support this important initiative,” noted the company on Thursday.
“In addition, we have forged a “Dream Team” with the best of U.S. industry, universities, international agencies and global companies to be engaged on our Dream Chaser program. We believe this endeavor will have a positive impact not only in the U.S. but around the globe. Today’s announcement confirms SNC as the world-class innovator and technology leader. ”
Dream Chaser will be launched by the Atlas V rocket provided by the United Launch Alliance.
One of the other winners, Orbital ATK’s Cygnus, will have the option of two launch vehicles, namely the Atlas V, atop of which the OA-4 mission was recently launched – and soon the OA-6 mission – along with the upgraded Antares rocket that will loft the OA-5 mission later this year.
“We are grateful for NASA’s continued confidence in our ability to provide reliable and affordable commercial cargo transportation services to the International Space Station,” said David W. Thompson, Orbital ATK’s President and Chief Executive Officer.
“With our flexible cargo delivery system now up and running, our team is well prepared to deliver essential supplies to the International Space Station for years to come.”
Orbital ATK has already delivered approximately 7,300 kilograms (or 16,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during four successful missions since 2013.
Depending on the spacecraft/launch vehicle configurations used, these initial CRS2 missions will deliver approximately 22,500-26,500 kilograms (or 49,000-58,000 pounds) of supplies and equipment to the orbiting laboratory. Later in the contract, NASA may award additional missions for the 2021-2024 period based on operational requirements of the ISS.
“This second CRS contract award reinforces Orbital ATK’s role as a trusted partner to NASA with a proven cargo delivery and disposal service that continues to support the important work being performed aboard the ISS,” added Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group.
“Our goal for both CRS-1 and CRS-2 remains unchanged, which is to support the needs of the crew members aboard the ISS with 100 percent mission success and schedule certainty.”
SpaceX – yet to release a statement on the CRS2 award – will utilize its Dragon spacecraft, in two configurations, during CRS2, with both the berthed Dragon spacecraft – as currently being employed during CRS1 – and the upgraded Dragon 2, which can dock directly with the ISS.
Dragon 2 is also the basis of SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Program development. The next cargo Dragon – CRS-8 – is expected to launch in March.
“The second generation of commercial cargo services to low-Earth orbit begins today,” added Mr. Shireman.
“By engaging American companies for cargo transportation, we can focus our attention on using this one-of-a-kind laboratory in the sky to continue advancing scientific knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.”
(Images: NASA, SNC and L2 – including renders from L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)
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