Thursday, 8 January 2015

U.S. GAO rejects Sierra Nevada’s protest over NASA $6.8 billion space contracts

On January 5, 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), rejected a protest filed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) over a NASA contract award to SpaceX and Boeing, to develop crew transportation vehicles to the International Space Station (ISS), under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) Program.

Last September, NASA awarded 4.2 billion USD to Boeing and 2.6 billion USD to SpaceX, to develop vehicles that would allow the United States to launch astronauts into space from U.S. territory. These CCtCap contracts would end, as of 2017, U.S. sole reliance on Russian Soyuz which has been delivering U.S astronauts to the ISS at a cost of more than $70 million a trip. The contracts include test flights to the ISS and up to six operational missions per company. 

SNC was one of the three finalist for the CCtCap contract, but was ultimately excluded, mainly on the ground that the company’s vehicle design was less mature and too technical that would eventually result in project launch delays. 

In the announcement of its protest, SNC said that “there are serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process”. SNC explained that NASA’s original request for proposals “prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria for the proposals”. It argued that its own proposal was the second lowest priced and that the government could have saved up to $900 million while still achieving mission suitability scores comparable to the other two proposals. 

The GAO in its decision, which has not been fully released to the public, rejected SNC arguments. In announcing the GAO decision, Ralph White, the agency’s general counsel, stated that GAO took no position on the merits of the each proposal, but reviewed the conclusions made by NASA to examine if they were “reasonable, and consistent with the evaluation approach NASA set out in its solicitation”. In its statement Mr. White said that despite Boeing’s higher price, NASA considered its proposal to be the strongest of all three. Boeing’s proposal was found to be superior in terms of technical approach, management approach and past performance. Mr. White also stated that NASA recognized several positive features in both SNC and SpaceX proposals, but SpaceX’s lower price represented the best value for the government. GAO disagreed with SNC allegations that NASA evaluation departed from the solicitation’s stated evaluation and selection criteria. 

SNC thanked the GAO and NASA for the time and effort spent in fully evaluating NASA’s decision. The company expressed its belief that the Dream Chaser Spacecraft will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of space transportation. It should be noted that, in the weeks following the filing of the said legal challenge, the SNC has publicized its success, in being competitively selected, to develop and build a next generation science and technology demonstration satellite for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program.

NASA expressed its satisfaction with GAO’s decision. The Agency stated that the decision allows the further continuation of work with Boeing and SpaceX, which will enable the launch of American spacecraft from U.S. soil.  
You can find previous posts on the issue here and here.


  1. why Boeing received more money than SpaceX?

    1. The official explanation is that Boeing simply asked for more money. The amount of the awards was distributed according to each company's proposal, as stated by Kathy Lueders (NASA's Commercial Crew Program Manager) - see e.g. on U.S. GAO rejects Sierra Nevada’s protest over NASA $6.8 billion space contracts