Sierra Nevada Alleges Boeing Benefitted From Commercial Crew Criteria Changes

Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)
Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)

Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal has an update on Sierra Nevada Corporation’s appeal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program award to Boeing. The Government Accountability Office is set to decide on the appeal by the first week in January.

In recent weeks, details have emerged that some of the arguments at the heart of the proceeding revolve around Sierra Nevada’s claims that a high-ranking agency official opted to rank Boeing’s proposal higher than a previous panel of agency procurement experts.

According to people familiar with the details, Sierra Nevada has alleged that Boeing won unfairly, because the choice was partly based on agency projections that the Chicago-based aerospace giant was more likely than its rival to complete the work on time. Sierra Nevada’s filings, however, contend that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s formal bidding criteria put a premium on price combined with technical issues, without indicating that scheduling considerations would be major factors in ranking rival proposals, one of these people said.

Sierra Nevada’s bid was about $900 million lower than the one Boeing submitted, but NASA’s final decision memo noted that Sierra Nevada’s plans entailed “considerably more schedule risk.”

Sierra Nevada has challenged Boeing’s award on various grounds. One of the main assertions, according to one person familiar with the details, is that William Gerstenmaier, the agency’s top human exploration official and the one who made the final decision, overstepped his authority by unilaterally changing the scoring criteria.

Read the full story.

  • JimNobles

    Some people get upset when I say this but I believe Boeing was always a lock for one of the winning slots. I believe that some at NASA feel that they absolutely MUST have Boeing’s lobbying power on NASA’s side in congress.

    I suspect Boeing was going to win a slot even if their entry was simply a dusted-off version of old Apollo Command Plans with as few modernizations as possible.

    Just my opinion.

  • SpaceTech


  • Jim R

    Agreed, without Boeing CCtCAP would probably be DOA in congress. But on the other hand I don’t think losing DC is a big issue, there’s some benefits in having a sure bet like Boeing on the team.

  • Jay Jay

    Agreed although it is a real shame would have liked to see DC fly.
    yes, having Boeing on board makes it less likely Congress will kill commercial crew. But they already have the Boeing SLS – so does seem a shame we coulnd’t get a third player involved.

    Props to the whole DC team, hope they can make a commercial model work but the odds do now seem against them.

  • windbourne

    I agree that Boeing had this won regardless, but I differ with you on SNC. We really need 3 different systems.
    BUT, the ones to blame for that, is CONgress, not NASA.

    Hopefully, NASA will allow SNC DC for CRS2, in place of OSC.

  • SpaceTech

    “Allow” Really?
    You do know it will be a competition and how competitions work right?
    3 different systems? Who’s talking pork now?

  • windbourne

    pork? How is it pork to have redundant systems?

  • waseem

    If NASA wanted Boeing as a must, then SNC should have been the 2nd choice instead of SpaceX. Boeing & SpaceX are building similar crafts. SNC had a different idea. But either SpaceX marketing was huge or NASA chose Boeing & SpaceX so that best of the best design is adopted (caz both have similar designs.SNC craft is actually based on Soviet experiments in 80s.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Or perhaps NASA thought that it needed a balance between innovation and conventional design to ensure that it gets what it needs to ferry its astronauts. Think about it, the Space X entry utilizes designs that are far from conventional and carry a higher risk of not meeting the 2017 deadline. The Boeing CST-100 design offers a more conventional design that has less risk of not meeting the deadline. If SNC was chosen over Boeing, NASA would have two high-risk designs and increased the probability that a provider would not be ready for the deadline to start ferrying missions.

    We all cheer the underdog and the radical approach, but if neither Space X or SNC met their deadlines, Congress would be asking why NASA went with two high-risk designs and didn’t hedge their bets on a more conventional provider that had the resources to get the job done. So yes, politics is in the mix, but Boeing isn’t the bad guy just because of its lobbying power, nor is the money it received “Pork” just because as a legacy provider it won a contract.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Maybe they would still be relevant if they had used the planned landing gear and had avoided turning their only test vehicle into a tumbleweed.

  • Hug Doug

    the DreamChaser was almost entirely derived from NASA’s HL-20 spaceplane concept from the early 1990s. if you compare the two they are nearly indistinguishable.

    the BOR-4 was small, half scale aerodynamic test vheicle from the early 1980s for a Soviet spaceplane project that never went anywhere. there was a reactionary small spaceplane project that eventually led to the HL-20 design, however, its design was not derived directly from the BOR-4 test vehicle, but rather from a slew of lifting body test aircraft from the 1960s, which performed tests which improved the Space shuttle design. one of these test vehicles, the HL-10, is the direct predecessor for the design of the small spaceplane projects done in the US in the late 80s early 90s.

  • SpaceTech


  • windbourne

    If we are going to the moon, mars, and to have multiple destinations in LEO, yeah, triple is a GOOD THING.
    In addition, it allows for true competition shortly down the road.

  • windbourne

    Excuse me. Exactly what rider designs does spacex have that’s innovative and might not work?

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “Think about it, the Space X entry utilizes designs that are far from conventional and carry a higher risk of not meeting the 2017 deadline.”
    Not sure how this sentence starts with “think about it”. How exactly is Dragon2 a higher schedule risk than CST-100?. Dragon2 can touchdown on land, but can splash down – Boeing have to get their airbags working reliably. Dragon2 is almost complete, CST-100 isn’t even started. After thinking about it, I’m not seeing the logic that Boeing were selected to reduce schedule risk. Unfairly or not, I can see how SNC may have been rejected on that basis.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Depends how redundant they are.

  • Guest

    Forgive me Elon for I have sinned and questioned Space X again.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Show me where I said they might not work?

  • Michael J. Listner

    Of course you don’t, but I’m not going to get sucked into another senseless ‘Space X’ debate. I stand by what I said.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    It’s not a SpaceX debate. You’re suggesting that that Boeing’s project is somehow less of schedule risk than another companies almost complete project, which is based on another vehicle that is already in service. It was merely the lack of facts and logic that I was questioning; the SpaceX part of it is beside the point.

  • JimNobles

    Also the other company is providing the booster and has the advantage of in-house expertise when it comes to consolidating the two systems.

    I really don’t think the Boeing has less schedule risk argument withstands much scrutiny.

  • JimNobles

    Is it also fair to say that Boeing hasn’t had any manned spacecraft building experience in decades? How are their current skill sets and experience appreciably better than their competitors in this enterprise?

  • windbourne

    again, what innovation does SpaceX have, that Boeing does not?

  • windbourne

    Launch systems that have similar capabilities, are fairly redundant for each other.

  • SpaceTech

    “PORK” is calling for a third system for no other reason other than your favorite didn’t win.
    SNC had no merit to continue and you will see this Jan 5th.

  • SpaceTech

    Mike, it’s a lost cause!

  • SpaceTech

    Thank you Doug!

  • windbourne

    Normally, I get accused of being a spacex fanbois.
    I have spoken long and hard about needing at least 3 redundant launch systems. Look at our current situation wrt to manned launches. We had 2 launchers, lost one, and depend on 1 that has had issues.
    Smart thing is to have 3. By having SNC bid with DC for cargo, they can make it happen quickly and easily without any extra NASA money.

  • Vladislaw

    “Pork barrel is the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district. ”
    Sierra Nevada is based out of Nevada, if Harry Reid would have stepped in and moved approriated money for other projects shifted over to dream chaser it would be pork. We didn’t really see much of a push from those reps. Sole sourced, non competitively bid, cost plus fixed fee contracts that goto targeted districts like with Orion/SLS is more to the point. These development contracts totaling billions .. 16.5 – 23 billion for the disposable Orion capsule, can then be subcontracted out to many local districts. Then NASA can show a map how Orion is being built in 40 states and 100 political districts.

  • Michael J. Listner


  • Michael J. Listner

    This perplexes me as we’re always being reminded in these forums of how innovative Space X is compared to the legacy providers. But as I am reminded above, it’s a lost cause.

  • Michael J. Listner

    They’ve absorbed the collective experience of McDonnell (Mercury/Gemini), North American Aviation (Apollo CM/SM) and Rockwell International (Space Shuttle).

  • windbourne

    actually, I have stated over and over that SpaceX has been using CURRENT tech, but with an economic focus. In fact, it was not until LAST year with F9R, in which they had an innovation that they had done.

    Now, as to the Rider, it has a very similar design to CST-100. In fact, it has a similar design to Dragon 1, other than relatively minor changes, EXCEPT for the super dracos.
    And that approach for abort is the same approach as Boeing.

    So, I ask again, what what innovation does SpaceX have, that Boeing does not? What is so advanced that they can not make the relatively minor changes to Dragon V1 and not finish.

    Look, you can go through all of my postings. I say the same things (spacex focused on economics and manufacturing innovation, not tech innovation). My position has not changed (though I have had statements that were shown to be wrong, in which I acknowledge them and backed off from issues; such as when hug dug recently showed that SpaceX has in fact completed their study/report/whatever). OTOH, yours position changes frequently, and even here, you not only refuse to back it up with information/data, but seek to attack me instead.

  • windbourne

    and you can see the HL10 at the wings over the rockies museum.

  • windbourne

    I think that if done right, they can do cargo with it.

  • Roy_H

    I find it amazing how most posts are focused on SpaceX. Yes, I am a SpaceX fan too, but this is about SNC and Boeing. SNC’s primary argument is that their proposal was $900M less than Boeing’s and the criteria implied that price would be almost 50% of the deciding factor. I did a little amateur analysis based on what I could read:
    I concluded that Boeing was given extra points under the Management Approach category by scoring highly on two criteria that SNC and SpaceX were not even evaluated on, Organizational Structure and Investment. Had SNC and SpaceX been evaluated on these, they probably would have got similar marks. This would have brought their scores closer together, but Boeing scored significantly higher on technical merits, mostly, as others pointed out, giving confidence that Boeing would finish on time with little risk, whereas SNC’s Dream Chaser still has some major functions to test and prove including it’s primary abort engine. I can understand NASA wanting Boeing for it’s conservative low-risk approach, but it does look like they did doctor the results to favor Boeing, and reneged on the high weighting of price.

  • windbourne

    Again, 40-60 years ago experience.

  • JimNobles

    Even if it is judged that NASA changed the rules a bit which benefited Boeing primarily I’m wondering if that acknowledgment would change anything? What if it’s decided that even if NASA had actually followed its own rules the results would have ended up the same anyway?

    I am actually curious, I’m not sure how these things work. I’d be surprised if this thing got thrown out based upon a “technicality” but I’ve been surprised before.

  • windbourne

    ideally, this would force all 3 back into being funded. But, I do not think so.
    No doubt Boeing IS the conservative bet, though not the surest by any means. I would have to argue that SpaceX is by far, the surest bet since it is pretty much done save for final tests.
    As such, SNC is the wild bet out there, since they have the least tested design, furthest behind, etc.

    In the end, I am hopeful that NASA will pick DC for CRS 2. While DC is a ways away from manned launch, it could do cargo rather quickly.

  • Hug Doug

    SpaceX’s design is unconventional, and therefore more likely to run into development problems. that’s why it has a higher schedule risk. SpaceX likes to tinker and constantly improve its designs. that’s a RISK when it comes to building something. if something SpaceX wants to do doesn’t work, they will need to back up and start over. it’s very unlikely that Boeing will have to do that.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “SpaceX likes to tinker and constantly improve its designs. that’s a RISK when it comes to building something.”
    Well then, do you think that “tinkering” will be one of the official NASA milestones?. Perhaps lift some more toadstools to find some more reasoning.

  • Hug Doug

    the changes between Dragon V2 and the cargo Dragon are not minor.

    virtually everything other than the shape of the pressure vessel is different!!

    Cargo Dragon did not have life support systems. it did not have windows. it did not have seats. it did not have a docking system (which, by the way, SpaceX elected to design on its own. it is not using the NASA Docking System). it did not have 8 Super Draco rocket engines strapped to the sides of it. also the RCS layout is very different.

    it is essentially a brand new spacecraft. Yes, SpaceX has already built prototypes to use in the abort tests, but it will have to be very thoroughly tested to make sure everything that NASA needs it to do will work.

    the major “innovation” that SpaceX is doing that Boeing isn’t is the landing. the major risk is that SpaceX will attempt to use powered landings to return people to Earth, initially like the Soyuz, eventually using only propulsive landing. if anything goes wrong with that system during testing, SpaceX will have a major setback.

  • Hug Doug

    i expect the CCtCap milestones will involve exhaustive ground tests of the spacecraft.

  • Vladislaw

    Every pound that goes into space under NASA’s resupply contracts has to be paid for. There isn’t a discount for the weight of the cargo vehicle.

    Dream Chaser, Mass 25,000 pounds

    Dragon Version 2, Mass 9300 pounds

    I could not find the dryweight mass of the Boeing CST-100, it was not listed on the Boeing website or on Wiki.

    That means on every human cargo run to the ISS by the Dreamchaser NASA would have to also pay for an extra mass of 15,700 pounds per mission. 15,700 times a conservative 5000 dollars a pound means the taxpayer is on the hook for an additional 78.5 million dollars per flight.

    The whole point of commercial crew is to provide low cost cargo transportation. Let’s assume 12 flights for a Dreamchaser contract and now we are saddled with an additional billion dollars. That extra billion dollars will not beable to used for probes, sats, habitats, rovers, landers etc. All so the cargo can land with wings.

    I prefer that we let the market drive the designs and when those more expensive designs make economic sense the drivers will attract the capital needed to put it in operation.

  • windbourne

    Dragon has life support, but it is designed for small animals, not 7 humans ( it has scrubber, temp control, etc ).
    Dragon also has windows.
    Dragon was designed to convert to manned since all that was needed was to upgrade life support (which was fully tested long ago ), put in the seats, add the control panel ( which had been designed for), add NDS, and finally a tractor abort system.

    However, musk took advantage of NASA money to move to new system, which has pusher abort/landing system.
    V2 will use the same Draco engines in RCS, just a different layout.
    V2 has similar mold lines vs something like DC.
    V2 uses the life support and avionics that was designed for dragon.

    As such, manufacturing will be similar and the changes will be remarkably minor ( compared to moving to something like DC). No

    And as to landing, musk has stated multiple times that the initial landings will be parachutes. Later, after fully tested and accepted by NASA, they will do propulsive landing.

    As such, I still say that Michael is dead wrong that spacex has any real liability vs Boeing.

  • Hug Doug

    there is not an air scrubber on the Dragon. there is an air circulation and air temperature regulation system, but there is no air scrubber or a life support system. the CRS-4 mission had a small life support system specifically installed in the habitat for the mice.

    the first COTS demo flight Dragon had windows, the rest did not.

    key word – WAS. the Dragon WAS designed for a “quick and simple” upgrade to a manned system, but that is not what SpaceX has done.

    the different RCS layout means the Dragon V2 will handle differently from the Cargo Dragon.

    the Dragon V2 outer mold lines are absolutely nothing like DC. that is a completely ridiculous statement.

    Dragon V2 does not use the life support system from Cargo Dragon, as the Cargo Dragon has no life support system.

    SpaceX is going to do Soyuz-style landings on land, descent on parachutes with the landing cushioned by retrofire by the SuperDracos. the development of this landing system could easily run into problems.

    the Dragon V2 is essentially a new spacecraft. the changes from the Cargo Dragon are not minor.

  • Michael J. Listner

    A lot is made of Boeing’s lobbying power but what of the lobbying power of Space X and Mr. Musk? Boeing, Lockheed and the other legacy providers are frequently slammed for the money they spend on lobbyists and political cronyism. Yet, Space X is the beneficiary of subsidies both in the form of funding, access to the know-how to get into the rocket business, tax subsidies, etc. Space X receives these benefits both at the federal and state level just like the legacy providers. So, under Mr. Noble’s political calculus NASA may feel that they have to absolutely have to have Boeing’s lobbying power in Congress, but to the same extent NASA may feel that Space X must be in the mix as well for the same reasons. So, under this political equation SNC is operating at a political disadvantage regardless.

    Again, I am not saying this is the case, but if Mr. Noble’s concerns are valid then the other half of the political formula must be taken into account as well.

  • Matt

    Good point. I think winged spacecrafts (gliders) have many drawbacks compared to a capsule design. One is larger weight. Air and space fits not very well together.