Thursday, August 2, 2012

And the Winners Are ...

Click the arrow to watch the NASA TV video of the CCiCap press conference at Kennedy Space Center.

NBC News space correspondent Alan Boyle just sent out this Twitter message:

SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada selected to receive money from NASA for future spaceships, NBC reports. Story upcoming.

The official press release is scheduled for release in the morning at 9 AM EDT. I'll update this post as events warrant.

Congratulations to NBC News for the scoop.

UPDATE August 2, 2012 7:15 PM EDTThe Wall Street Journal reports that Boeing and SpaceX are "expected" to win the full awards.

Boeing Co. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. on Friday are expected to win the bulk of as much as $1 billion in federal awards to spur development of next-generation manned spacecraft, according to industry officials.

The decision, which is expected to be disclosed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, caps three years of efforts by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to foster so-called space taxis, commercially-owned and operated vehicles intended to shuttle crews to and from the International Space Station.

Chicago-based Boeing and closely-held Space Exploration Technologies, based in Hawthorne, Calif., appear poised to split most of the money tentatively earmarked by NASA and lawmakers for such systems, the industry officials said. The total amount available is likely to be between $800 and $1 billion through the middle of 2014.

Closely-held Sierra Nevada Corp., a manufacturer of satellite components and other aerospace hardware that is based in Sparks, Nev., seems likely to emerge with a substantially smaller award, according to the officials. After lengthy battles with congressional leaders, NASA chief Charles Bolden agreed there would be two primary winners, plus a third choice that would receive less funding, they said.

UPDATE August 2, 2012 8:45 PM EDTNBC News has posted its report.

Teams headed by the Boeing Co., SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp. will be receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from NASA over the next 21 months for further development of spaceships capable of transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station, knowledgeable sources told NBC News today.

NASA is to make the official announcement of the winning commercial teams on Friday morning — but NBC News' Cape Canaveral correspondent, Jay Barbree, received word from two sources who were informed of the decision in advance, on condition of anonymity. The sources did not discuss how much money any of the companies would be receiving.

UPDATE August 3, 2012 9:00 AM EDT — James Dean of Florida Today just sent this Twitter message:

NASA's "CCiCap" awards go to...Boeing ($460 million), SpaceX ($440 million), Sierra Nevada Corp. ($212.5 million).

UPDATE August 3, 2012 9:30 AM EDTHere's the official NASA press release.

NASA Friday announced new agreements with three American commercial companies to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, enabling a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next five years. Advances made by these companies under newly signed Space Act Agreements through the agency's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative are intended to ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for government and commercial customers.‬

CCiCap partners are:

— Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colo., $212.5 million
— Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., $440 million
— The Boeing Company, Houston, $460 million

UPDATE August 3, 2012 2:45 PM EDT — I've posted above the video of this morning's announcement at Kennedy Space Center.

UPDATE August 4, 2012Florida Today reports on yesterday's announcement:

NASA selected the winners from seven proposals, of which three did not meet requirements: American Aerospace, Space Design and Space Operations & Co.

Of the remaining four, ATK’s proposed Liberty system, which leveraged a first-stage solid rocket booster initially designed for NASA’s canceled Ares I rocket, was the loser.

The winners’ proposals met the development program’s objectives “in a much stronger fashion than ATK’s did,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations directorate.

The Utah Congressional delegation, as expected, has already started making false claims and threatening investigations.

From this morning's Salt Lake Tribune:

In a statement Friday, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said he was "disappointed and disheartened by the news."

"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.

Bishop offered no evidence, of course, to support his allegations.

He also failed to mention that in 1973 NASA Administrator James Fletcher, a Utah native, awarded the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster contract to Morton Thiokol, ATK's predecessor. According to a University of Texas web site article:

Four companies bid for the contract to design and manufacture the solid rocket boosters (SRBs). Aerojet Solid bid the program at $655 million, United Technologies at $710 million, Morton Thiokol at $710 million, and Lockheed at $714 million. All the bids were relatively similar in both price and technology. Based on cost, the NASA advisory panel recommended that the contract be awarded to Aerojet; they believed that money could be saved without sacrificing technical quality by choosing the lowest bid. NASA administrator Dr. James Fletcher overruled this recommendation and awarded the contract to Morton Thiokol in Brigham City, Utah. Aerojet appealed the decision and after many allegations and counter-allegations, the GAO (General Accounting Office) was instructed by Congress to investigate the matter. The GAO found that the contract award procedure was not improper. NASA regulations clearly stated that the decision was to be made by the chief administrator, not the advisory panel. However, the GAO could find no reason for selecting Morton Thiokol over Aerojet and recommended that NASA reconsider the decision.

I would like to hear what Rep. Bishop has to say about that 1973 decision.

In the above video, Bolden said the CCiCap decision was made by NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier, and that he was not notified until two days before the announcement. The implication was that Bolden was insulated from the decision-making process to avoid the Congressional allegations of partisan favoritism that have been hurled at him in the past.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the awards also help Bigelow Aerospace, which has partnerships with Boeing and SpaceX.

Robert Bigelow, owner and president of Bigelow Aerospace, called the funding "more aggressive" than prior NASA contracts and said he was "very happy" about the ramped-up investment, which will nearly double the workforce at his North Las Vegas plant ...

Bigelow said he has marked 2016 as a year when spacecraft availability will meet growing customer demand, and things really take off for the business.

"This is an embryonic situation where we've been in research-and-development mode for the last decade," Bigelow said. "As with anything you're trying to create from scratch, it takes a while to finally get to a point where you have something that's marketable. We are starting to approach that point in our little company."

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