Boeing Dumped From NASA's $3.5 Billion Cargo-Flight Contest

The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-134 crew member on the space shuttle Endeavour after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation.

The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-134 crew member on the space shuttle Endeavour after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation.

Source: NASA
  • Decision on supplying space station is delayed until Jan. 30
  • Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada also are competing for the contract

Boeing Co.’s bid to fly cargo to the International Space Station fell short as the company was eliminated from NASA’s $3.5 billion competition, clearing a challenger from a field that also includes Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The National Aeronautics & Space Administration, which had planned to award the work as soon as Thursday, delayed a decision until Jan. 30 at the latest to allow more time for a review of the bidders’ proposals, according to a revised timeline on the agency’s website.

Boeing’s exit further thins the field of contenders for NASA’s second contract with private business to haul supplies to the station, following Lockheed Martin Corp.’s removal earlier this year. Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Orbital ATK Inc., the incumbents on the current award, vied for the new flights along with Sierra Nevada Corp.

“Since the agency is in the process of evaluating proposals, we are in a procurement communications blackout,” NASA spokeswoman Tabatha Thompson said. “For that reason, NASA cannot answer questions about this procurement at this time.”

A Boeing spokeswoman, Kelly Kaplan, gave no details beyond saying that the company was no longer a contender. The Chicago-based planemaker, whose spaceflight roots date to the 1950s, had proposed missions with a reusable cargo version of the Starliner capsule being developed for manned NASA orbital missions later this decade.

Still Competing

A spokesman for Orbital, Barron Beneski, said the company is still competing for the contract renewal and continues to haul cargo under the initial award. Orbital’s next mission is scheduled for Dec. 3, he said.

Sierra Nevada spokeswoman Krystal Scordo said the company “was selected to re-open discussions” for the work, while SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said the company won’t comment until NASA makes a final decision.

The contract loss is the second major blow in less than two weeks for Boeing, whose joint bid with Lockheed for the U.S. Air Force’s $80 billion program to build the Long-Range Strike Bomber was passed over after a competition with Northrop Grumman Corp.

Like several other competitors for the cargo contract, Boeing’s proposal relied on rockets with Russian-made engines, a point of concern for some U.S. lawmakers. SpaceX, founded in 2002 by PayPal Inc. co-founder Musk, is the only bidder with a made-in-the-USA entry.

Split Decision

NASA split the initial $3.6 billion cargo-flight contract between SpaceX and Orbital in 2008, two years after Musk’s upstart venture sent its first rocket aloft. The win helped establish SpaceX as a competitor to United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed rocket venture whose work includes military missions.

SpaceX has completed six missions under the NASA award, and also plans to restart commercial flights in December. Both SpaceX and Orbital vehicles have been grounded following rocket explosions that left NASA dependent on Russian and Japanese cargo haulers.

The Florida Today newspaper reported earlier Thursday on Boeing’s elimination.

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