Sierra Nevada has challenged NASA’s decision not to offer them a contract for their crew transport, the Dream Chaser. While the issue is being resolved, all work on other crew transport contracts is suspended.
Since the space shuttle’s retirement, Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX have been fighting each other to get a contract to produce NASA’s next crew transport. Last month, the space agency finally awarded contracts to the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Dragon v2. Sierra Nevada however, was left out, and they’ve decided to legally challenge NASA’s decision, claiming that their solution, the Dream Chaser, is at least as capable as the two other craft, not to mention $900 million cheaper than the CST-100.
When the vehicles were compared, they were judged on three factors; price, mission suitability and past performance. Due to NASA’s tight budget, price was weighed twice as heavily as the other two factors. The SpaceX and Sierra Nevada vehicles were far cheaper than the Boeing solution, so for the Dream Chaser to be passed up, it must have performed very poorly in the two other categories.
Of the three, the Dream Chaser is the only spaceplane (the other two being capsules). This could of course have weighed into the decision, but Sierra Nevada claims that their design keeps in the legacy of the space shuttle and indeed might be more versitile and adaptable than a capsule would be. Officially, the three vehicles were scored comparably on the mission suitability assessment. Further more, Sierra Nevada claims that their past record is at least on par with Boeing. They commented that choosing the CST-100 will result in “a substantial increased cost to the public despite near equivalent technical and past performance scores.”
Artist’s rendition of the Dream Chaser sitting atop a rocket, ready for launch
As a result of the legal challenge, NASA has stopped all work on the contracts and has cut all public funding on the CST-100 and Dragon v2 until the issue has been resolved. The Government Accountability Office has until January 5th to decide if the challenge should be sustained. If so, NASA may change its decision, or open up the competition for the contract again