Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why ATK Lost

When NASA announced the commercial crew competition winners on August 3, ATK's Liberty system wasn't one of them.

Utah Rep. Rob Bishop told the Salt Lake Tribune he suspected sinister forces were at work.

"I have been concerned that favoritism may be playing far too prominent of a role in NASA’s decision-making process, especially with regards to companies closely tied to key NASA officials," he said. "ATK is a proven leader and their track record is beyond exemplary. It was my understanding that ATK’s Liberty proposal ranked very high in technical merit, and was the lowest-risk option."

Bishop’s concerns about favoritism stem from alleged relationships he says President Obama and NASA administrator Charles Bolden have with Musk.

It turns out the truth is much closer to home for Rep. Bishop.

According to Space News:

A design by Alliant Techsystems (ATK) was dropped from NASA’s shortlist of potential space station crew taxis because the company did not present a technically sound plan for combining existing rocket and spacecraft designs into a single transportation system, according to a NASA source selection document released Sept. 4.

“I had some significant concerns about the lack of detail in some areas of ATK’s technical approach,” William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, wrote in the document. “Basically, the proposal lacked enough detail to determine if a safe crew transportation system could be developed in a timely and cost effective manner out of the heritage components ATK selected for this concept.”

Gerstenmaier’s comments appeared in a July 31 source selection document detailing his reasons for passing over ATK and three less-known firms to pick Boeing, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Sierra Nevada Space Systems for Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) awards totaling $1.1 billion.

Show of hands, how many of you think Rep. Bishop will issue a statement apologizing to Obama and Bolden for his false accusations?

No, I don't think he will either.

UPDATE September 7, 2012Doug Messier of Parabolic Arc published this review of the selection process, based on a 13-page NASA Selection Statement.

His bottom-line observation about why ATK lost?

Strong business case and financial commitment, but insufficient technical information and higher risks result in no joy in Utah.

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