SpaceX Has Highest CRS2 Score and Mission Cost

SpaceX Dragon freighter at ISS. (Credit: NASA)
SpaceX Dragon freighter at ISS. (Credit: NASA)

SpaceX had the highest rating and mission price in the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract competition, with Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada Corporation running neck and neck for second place. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin and Boeing finished out of the running due to cost.

That’s the word from NASA, which recently released the source selection statement for the multi-billion dollar awards for supplying cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) from 2019 to 2024. Last month, the space agency awarded a minimum of six flights each to SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada.

SpaceX, which is already delivering supplies to ISS, received 922 points out of a possible 1,000 points for mission suitability. The three sub-factors in this category included technical approach (maximum 650 points), management approach (300 points) and small business utilization (50 points).

Orbital ATK, the other incumbent provider, received 880 points for mission suitability. Newcomer Sierra Nevada Corporation was close behind with 879 points.

SpaceX is offering two standard missions using its Dragon cargo spacecraft, which can deliver pressurized and unpressurized cargo on the same flight. One mission will dock with the station, the other will be berthed with it using the station’s robotic arm.

Dragon also is capable of returning cargo to Earth. SpaceX’s proposal includes propulsive landing capability back at the launch site.

Dragon abort test with SuperDraco engines. (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon abort test with SuperDraco engines. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX will be adding launch abort capability, which its current Dragon cargo ship lacks. The system will be adapted from the crew Dragon vehicle the company is developing under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Although Dragon has the smallest cargo capability and highest cost among the three awardees, the vehicle’s capabilities and maturity give it the best mission suitability, the document states.  For example, Dragon can accommodate large and irregularly shaped payloads.

The high mission costs are a result of having two separate Dragon production lines running simultaneously.

The selection statement saw it as a plus that SpaceX can launch the missions from two launch facilities in Florida, one at the Kennedy Space Center and the other at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. There’s no indication in the document that SpaceX is planning any cargo launches from its Texas spaceport, which is now under development near Brownsville.

Cygnus approaches ISS (Credit: NASA)
Cygnus approaches ISS (Credit: NASA)

Orbital ATK offered the lowest mission cost with its Cygnus cargo ship. For this new contract, the company has added the option of missions that will carry unpressurized cargo.

Orbital ATK will provide three standard missions, two with pressurized and one with unpressurized cargo. The missions can be launched on the Antares rocket from Wallops Island in Virginia or United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Cygnus will be berthed with the station for all flights.

Dream Chaser cargo ship docking with International Space Station. (Credit: SNC)
Dream Chaser cargo ship docking with International Space Station. (Credit: SNC)

NASA officials were impressed with Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser cargo ship, which met all of the agency’s requirements for cargo delivery, return and disposal.

“Providing a single vehicle that can perform all required mission services in a given flight, and accommodates the upper range of many of the cargo capacity requirements, significantly increases NASA’s manifest and ISS vehicle traffic flexibility,” the source selection statement noted.

Dream Chaser will be launched aboard an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral. The shuttle is designed for an automated landing on a runway, giving delicate cargo a relatively gentle re-entry and allowing scientists to quickly retrieve time sensitive experiments and biological samples.

Space agency 0fficials noted that Sierra Nevada performed extensive work on Dream Chaser under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that can be applied to the cargo program.

“I noted that Sierra Nevada performed contracts and agreements that cover aspects of CRS2 scope of work, such as ISS and vehicle integration, and vehicle and systems development, although they have limited experience in management of a project of this scale,” wrote NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier. “However, Sierra Nevada has shown good project management, and its two major subcontractors both have very relevant experience in launch vehicles and in development and production of a complex spacecraft.”

Sierra Nevada is working with Lockheed Martin in manufacturing Dream Chaser and ULA in launching it.

The selection statement outlined a lengthy evaluation that was repeated delayed as NASA changed requirements and the schedule for starting CRS2 flights slipped into late 2019.

Lockheed Martin was the first bidder to be eliminated in April 2015 because its proposal was outside of the “competitive range.” Boeing’s bid to use a modified version of its CST-100 Starliner crew vehicle was eliminated as not price competitive in the fall.