NASA Rejected Relativity Space’s Plan for Commercial LEO Space Station

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Relativity Space unsuccessfully applied for NASA funding to begin work on a commercial space station under the space agency’s Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) program, according to a newly released government document.

The space agency awarded $415.6 million for space station proposals from Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman. The commercial stations are designed to provide the United States with uninterrupted access to Earth orbit when the International Space Station is retired in 2030.

In addition to the proposal from Relativity Space’s, NASA rejected plans from SpaceX, Maverick Space, Orbital Assembly Corporation and ThinkOrbital.

A selection statement signed by Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of human spaceflight, said NASA had a moderate level of confidence in Relativity Space’s technical approach and a low level of confidence in its business plan.

Relevant excerpts with minor changes from the selection statement are reproduced below. Acronyms have been spelled out for the sake of clarity.

NASA Level of Confidence Ratings

Selection Statement (Excerpts)
Signed by Phil McAlister. NASA Director of Human Spaceflight

Technical Evaluation

For the Technical Approach evaluation, Relativity received a Level of Confidence rating of White (Moderate).

Its significant strengths included a reusable and returnable lab with a return capability; proposed iterative prototyping and testing in hardware development; and its in-house development approach.

Its strengths included more than 2 crew members at initial operations and frequent, short duration missions support its simple Environmental Control & Life Support (ECLS) concept.

Its significant weaknesses included no plan for how systems will be matured for longer duration crewed missions which is a major risk to the goal of continuous human presence.

Its weaknesses included a lack of detail in payload accommodations; a minimal strategy for crew accommodations; a weak training and mission control concept for CLD; limited payload power for its proposed CLD; a lack of mitigation strategies on CLD systems beyond additive manufacturing; and low technical maturity for additive manufacturing on the scale proposed.

Business Plan Evaluation

For the Business Plan evaluation, Relativity received a Level of Confidence rating of Yellow (Low).

There were no significant strengths identified.

Its strengths included strong technical management; experience in launch vehicle development; and good in-house development resources.

Its significant weaknesses included a failure to present a business strategy; inclusion of launch vehicle development in the Space Act Agreement (SAA), which is outside the scope of the Announcement; and no description of an overall CLD development plan or any schedule beyond Critical Design Review (CDR).

Its weaknesses included not specifying who is in charge of the company’s CLD program; proposing that NASA pay most of its costs under the SAA; and reliance on cash and revenue that is unsubstantiated.