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Sierra Nevada Files Suit to Reinstate Hold on Commercial Crew Work

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Space News reports that Sierra Nevada Corporation has filed suit to stop Boeing and SpaceX from continuing commercial crew work while the company’s appeal of the awards to the two companies is pending.

In filings with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, Sierra Nevada filed requests for both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to overturn a NASA decision Oct. 9 lifting an order stopping work on Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded Sept. 16 to Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

NASA had issued a stop-work order shortly after Sierra Nevada filed a protest regarding the CCtCap awards with the U.S. Government Accountability Office Sept. 26. On Oct. 9, NASA lifted the order, citing “statutory authority available to it” in order to keep the program on schedule.

NASA justified the decision by warning that any delay in carrying out the contracts “poses risks” to the international space station crew and could jeopardize operations of the station. “NASA has determined that it best serves the United States to continue performance of the CCtCap contracts,” the agency said in a statement posted on the commercial crew program website.

A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning.

SpaceX Wins Safety Award

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Falcon 9 launches AsiaSat8 into orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

Falcon 9 launches AsiaSat8 into orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

NOORDWIJK, NETHERLANDS, October 13, 2014 (IAASS PR) — The International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS) has announced that this year’s Vladimir Syromiatnikov Safety-by-Design Award will go to Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) for safety accomplishments related to its Dragon vehicles. The award will be presented to SpaceX Director of Risk and System Safety Michael Lutomski at the 7th IAASS Conference Awards Gala Dinner in Friedrichshafen (Germany) on Tuesday 21 October 2014.

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Smith Praises Commercial Crew Winners, Then Tries to Stab One in Back

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Lamar Smith

Lamar Smith

Less than a month after praising Boeing and SpaceX for winning NASA Commercial Crew contracts, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is eager to stab one of them in the back.

“I congratulate Boeing and SpaceX on their achievements in the Commercial Crew Program. Both companies and the thousands of people they employ have a crucial task before them as they work to further U.S. space exploration,” Smith said in a Sept. 16 statement. “They also have a responsibility to the U.S. taxpayers who are making considerable contributions to the development of these commercial space capabilities.”

Three weeks later, Smith had apparently decided that two commercial crew providers was one too many.

“If Orion could provide a redundant capability as a fallback for the commercial crew partners, why is it necessary to carry two partners to ensure competition in the constrained budget environment?” Smith asked in an Oct. 7 letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. The letter was co-signed by House Science Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.).

My guess is that Bolden has explained why this wouldn’t work well to Congress many, many times. I’m also guessing that if NASA had to choose between commercial crew providers, it would probably select SpaceX because the company is further along toward crewed flights and costs far less than Boeing.

I’m not sure why Smith would take the risk of eliminating Boeing, which has  headquartered its commercial crew program in Houston.  Unless he believes the committee could force NASA to eliminate SpaceX and select Boeing despite the cost disparity.

Read Smith’s original statement of praise here. Space News has more details about the letter from Smith and Palazzo.

UT at Brownsville Gets $10 Million for Space Commercialization Efforts

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Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor's Office)

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Gov. Rick Perry has announced a combined investment of $9 million from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and The University of Texas System to create a powerful research and technology commercialization partnership that will create limitless possibilities for South Texas.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker has also announced that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding $1.2 million to the University of Texas at Brownsville. The EDA investment will help build a high-tech business incubation facility that will spur new business development associated with the region’s growing space industry cluster, according to the grantee.

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NASA Orders Boeing, SpaceX to Resume Commercial Crew Work

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WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — On Sept. 16, NASA announced U.S. astronauts once again will travel to and from the International Space Station (ISS) from the United States on American spacecraft under groundbreaking contracts. The agency unveiled its selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively, with a goal of ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia in 2017.

On Sept. 26, Sierra Nevada Corporation filed a protest of the commercial crew contracts with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Pursuant to the GAO protest, NASA instructed Boeing and SpaceX to suspend performance of the contracts.

On Oct. 9, under statutory authority available to it, NASA has decided to proceed with the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded to The Boeing Company and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. notwithstanding the bid protest filed at the U.S. Government Accountability Office by Sierra Nevada Corporation. The agency recognizes that failure to provide the CCtCap transportation service as soon as possible poses risks to the International Space Station (ISS) crew, jeopardizes continued operation of the ISS, would delay meeting critical crew size requirements, and may result in the U.S. failing to perform the commitments it made in its international agreements. These considerations compelled NASA to use its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences where contract performance remained suspended. NASA has determined that it best serves the United States to continue performance of the CCtCap contracts that will enable safe and reliable travel to and from the ISS from the United States on American spacecraft and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for such transportation.

Report: Boeing Ranked Ahead of SpaceX, Sierra Nevada on Commercial Crew

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Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal has obtained a copy of NASA’s Commercial Crew source selection statement, and he says the space agency ranked Boeing’s proposal for its CST-100 spacecraft higher in every major category than SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle.

Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s unsuccessful bid was marked technical and schedule uncertainties related to the complex hardware and software required for the company’s Dream Chaser space shuttle, according to the story.

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Space Angels Network Tours SoCal Space Companies

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Space Angels trip members watch the firing of an XCOR Lynx thruster. (Credit: Space Angels Network)

Space Angels trip members watch the firing of an XCOR Lynx thruster. (Credit: Space Angels Network)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – September 29, 2014 (Space Angels PR) – Earlier this month Space Angels Network hosted an exclusive Expedition to Southern California space companies, offering unique insights inside the private space industry. The companies, located in Los Angeles and at the Mojave Air & Spaceport, included SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Masten Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, Whittinghill Aerospace and Firestar Technologies.

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About $30 Million in Incentives for SpaceX’s Texas Launch Facility

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Rendering of SpaceX's Boca Chica launch complex. (Credit: SpaceX)

Rendering of SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch complex. (Credit: SpaceX)

The Valley Morning Star estimates that financial incentives for SpaceX’s spaceport in Texas stand at “about $30 million.” The funding includes:

The McAllen City Commission, as recommended by the McAllen Economic Development Corp., pitched in with $500,000 and the Point Isabel ISD Board of Trustees approved an agreement in exchange for an eight-year limitation on the taxable property value for that portion of the taxes for maintenance and operations, not for debt service.

The Harlingen City Commission, as recommended by the Harlingen Economic Development Corp., provided $450,000; the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp. provided $5 million; Cameron County provided a tax abatement with a value up to $1.4 million; the state is providing $15.3 million; the Cameron County Space Port Development Corp. submitted an application for $1 million from the Texas Department of Agriculture and another $9 million was pitched to advance STARGATE, including $4.4 million from the state, $4.6 million from the University of Texas System, and $500,000 from GBIC.

STARGATE, which would be the first research center for the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, will be a cooperative effort to develop and support phased-array technology for satellite and space vehicle communication.

Read the full story.

Proton Returns to Flight as Khrunichev Looks to Compete With SpaceX

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Holy shi'ski! The rocket...it go KABOOMSKI! (Credit: Tsenki TV)

A Proton rocket launches its payloads into Baikonur. (Credit: Tsenki TV)

After being grounded for four months, Russia’s accident prone Proton booster will be back in action Sunday morning with officials once again praying it launches a payload into space rather than back to Earth.

Meanwhile, Russian officials are moving ahead with an expensive plan to overhaul Proton’s builder, Khrunichev, to allow it to compete with American start-up SpaceX on price and to produce a new family of Angara boosters.

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Sierra Nevada Protests Commercial Crew Awards

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Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

Dream Chaser (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

Sierra Nevada has formally protested NASA’s decision to award commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX:

Details of the objection lodged with the Government Accountability Office will be released shortly, Krystal Scordo, a Sierra Nevada spokeswoman, said today by e-mail. The GAO has 100 days to make a decision in the case.

The move erects at least a temporary roadblock for Boeing and SpaceX, which were picked by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA’s funding for so-called space taxi flights marks the first time the U.S. has turned to commercial ventures for sending humans into orbit.

Read the full story.

UPDATE: Here’s the Sierra Nevada press release:

Sierra Nevada Corporation Challenges Award of NASA’s
Commercial Crew Transportation Capability Contract

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.

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