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  [Discuss] Sierra Nevada's protest of NASA CCtCap

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Author Topic:   [Discuss] Sierra Nevada's protest of NASA CCtCap
Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-27-2014 08:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Please use this topic to discuss Sierra Nevada Corp.'s legal challenge to the award of contracts to Boeing and SpaceX under NASA's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program.

issman1
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posted 09-27-2014 08:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for issman1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One can understand SNC's frustration at not being selected. But capsules are simple and straightforward whereas a mini-spaceplane brings it own subtle complexities.

That said, of the two winners, SpaceX has proven flight hardware through its many Dragon CRS missions to date, so Boeing is the weakest link.

I would have thought that SNC is in a better posture for the CRS-2 contract because ISS downmass capability is presently limited to Dragon.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-27-2014 10:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dragon v1 is not v2 (now known as Crew Dragon), so it is not as clear cut as saying SpaceX has flight experience. They have had to redesign the capsule, use new thrusters, redesign the parachutes, and develop a new life support system that is so far untried.

So from that perspective, SpaceX is only marginally ahead of Boeing, and Boeing has completed its Critical Design Review (CDR), whereas SpaceX has yet to do so (they are, I believe, slated to complete the CDR in March).

But, if we accept SNC's account (barring NASA releasing its source selection statement, which now won't happen until after the government rules on the protest), then this really isn't a question about experience. SNC says it ranked similarly to Boeing, and so (the company says) the decision should have come down to price (SNC's bid apparently being $3.3 billion).

Aeropix
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posted 09-27-2014 01:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Aeropix   Click Here to Email Aeropix     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
How disappointing.

First thing I am very disappointed with is NASA not considering that the Dream Chaser will expand technology and knowledge in both space and aeronautics.

It's also disappointing that NASA chose the path of crony capitalism by giving the high bidder (Boeing) the money to rehash an Apollo capsule rather than supporting exploration of new technology and diversification through the Dream Chaser program.

It's a shame that we are returning to 1950's technology for the same development cost as the entire shuttle program, and not seeing any advancement in technology from the bargain. Wouldn't it be better to fund one capsule "for reliability sake" and then also fund Dream Chaser in keeping with NASA's directive to encourage and develop new technology?

Anyway, rant over, I just hope that the decision is reconsidered for the sake of future spacecraft development not being stuck in the past.

mercsim
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posted 09-28-2014 09:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mercsim   Click Here to Email mercsim     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
Dragon v1 is not v2 (now known as Crew Dragon), so it is not as clear cut as saying SpaceX has flight experience... So from that perspective, SpaceX is only marginally ahead of Boeing...
Really? These are truly words of a politician/journalist and not an engineer. So should we extrapolate a bit from your comment and say Mercury didn't really provide any flight experience for Gemini? After all, they used different thrusters, parachutes, and life support systems. And so Gemini didn't provide any flight experience for Apollo? After all, it was a different capsule with different thrusters, parachutes, and life supports systems.

Have you ever participated in a CDR? Don't read more into that check-in-the-box than there really is. Successful engineering is ALL about Lessons Learned and experience. SNC has experience. Demonstrating autonomous flight and landing was a MAJOR milestone. SpaceX flying to the ISS is a MAJOR milestone. Boeing is a giant political machine but when are they flying?

I still can't believe you said "not as clear cut as saying SpaceX has flight experience." That hurts engineers from all walks of life...

Lou Chinal
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posted 09-28-2014 09:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Aeropix:
Anyway, rant over, I just hope that the decision is reconsidered for the sake of future spacecraft development not being stuck in the past.
I happen to agree with your rants.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-28-2014 10:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by mercsim:
I still can't believe you said "not as clear cut as saying SpaceX has flight experience." That hurts engineers from all walks of life...
I was responding specifically to the comment that "SpaceX has proven flight hardware," I was not commenting generally on SpaceX's overall flight experience.

But you're right, all past experience informs (to some degree) future flights, and to that end, Boeing's experience working on the space station informs its development of CST-100.

SNC's flight test was indeed a major milestone (no where did I suggest it was not). SpaceX's parachute tests for the Crew Dragon were an important milestone, too (as will be its two upcoming abort flight tests).

Boeing performed parachute and airbag drop tests of its CST-100.

For whatever it's worth, I want to see Dream Chaser succeed, too, but I don't subscribe to the unfounded claims that Boeing cheated the system to be selected. SNC's protest will delay NASA releasing its source selection statement, so we will all have to wait to learn more about how the three companies scored on NASA's assessment.

On edit: Just to clarify, where I said, "I want to see Dream Chaser succeed, too," I mean in addition to Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Crew Dragon. I don't know if SNC will win in its protest, but I hope SNC decides to continue development of the Dream Chaser even without the CCtCap award.

mercsim
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posted 09-28-2014 11:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mercsim   Click Here to Email mercsim     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-02-2014 09:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA has directed Boeing and SpaceX to halt their work under the CCtCap awards until the U.S. Government Accountability Office rules on Sierra Nevada's protest. From Spaceflight Now:
The legal challenge stops any work to be executed under the Boeing and SpaceX contracts, according to Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokesperson.

"Pursuant to the GAO protest, NASA has instructed Boeing and SpaceX to stop performance of the CCtCap contract," Schierholz said.

Officials did not say if the work stoppage prevents activities using internal funds.

The GAO has until Jan. 5 to recommend a response to Sierra Nevada's challenge, but the congressional watchdog agency could release a ruling within weeks.

...if the GAO rules in favor of Sierra Nevada, NASA could change its decision or re-compete the commercial crew contract.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-02-2014 09:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Wall Street Journal, citing an internal NASA source selection statement, offers some insight into why SNC was not selected:
The September document, among other things, indicates that the bid by Sierra Nevada, based in Sparks, Nev., had "technical uncertainty and schedule risk" partly because "complex hardware and software development remained" to be done.
The article reports that Boeing ranked well above SpaceX (and SNC) in NASA's assessment:
Boeing's submission was considered "excellent" for "mission suitability," whereas SpaceX got a "very good" ranking. The numerical scores for that category, according to one person familiar with the details, were separated by more than 60 points out of a possible 1,000. The document shows Boeing also garnered the highest ranking of "excellent" for technical approach and program management, compared with "very good" rankings for SpaceX.

Based on Boeing's performance on a preliminary contract, NASA concluded it had "very high confidence" in that company's likelihood of delivering what it promised — the highest ranking possible.

Among the concerns expressed by NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier about SpaceX was the company's intention to use parts that haven't been specially manufactured and tested to guard against negative impacts from radiation, as well SpaceX's responsiveness to government requests or direction.

(If following the above link does not display the article, then access it via Google by searching for "Why Boeing Beat SpaceX in NASA's Space-Taxi Contest".)

jasonelam
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posted 10-02-2014 08:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for jasonelam   Click Here to Email jasonelam     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The real question will be if the work stoppage will affect the timeline for completion of CST-100 or Dragon v2.

When I watched the announcement of Boeing and SpaceX getting the award, I thought about how SNC would react. Can't say I blame them for feeling discouraged over not getting the award, but this could be a problem if it is not resolved in time.

I feel considering the other announcements SNC has put out in recent they are preparing for any situation, whether they get back in the running or not.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-09-2014 03:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA exercises authority to proceed with commercial crew contracts

On Sept. 16, NASA announced U.S. astronauts once again will travel to and from the International Space Station (ISS) from the United States on American spacecraft under groundbreaking contracts. The agency unveiled its selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively, with a goal of ending the nation's sole reliance on Russia in 2017.

On Sept. 26, Sierra Nevada Corporation filed a protest of the commercial crew contracts with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Pursuant to the GAO protest, NASA instructed Boeing and SpaceX to suspend performance of the contracts.

On Oct. 9, under statutory authority available to it, NASA has decided to proceed with the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded to The Boeing Company and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. notwithstanding the bid protest filed at the U.S. Government Accountability Office by Sierra Nevada Corporation.

The agency recognizes that failure to provide the CCtCap transportation service as soon as possible poses risks to the International Space Station (ISS) crew, jeopardizes continued operation of the ISS, would delay meeting critical crew size requirements, and may result in the U.S. failing to perform the commitments it made in its international agreements. These considerations compelled NASA to use its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences where contract performance remained suspended.

NASA has determined that it best serves the United States to continue performance of the CCtCap contracts that will enable safe and reliable travel to and from the ISS from the United States on American spacecraft and end the nation's sole reliance on Russia for such transportation.

Lou Chinal
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posted 10-10-2014 07:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm glad to see this was decided quickly. And it gave birth to a smaller Dream Chaser which may be of value in the arsenal against gravity.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-10-2014 08:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To clarify, Sierra Nevada's protest continues. NASA has only used what it feels is its authority to lift the cease work order generally required under such protests.

The GAO still needs to rule on SNC's protest by Jan. 5 and from what I hear, the company could still file for an injunction to again halt Boeing's and SpaceX's work.

Lou Chinal
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posted 10-10-2014 09:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I apologize. I, like most of us, was looking for a "Quick-Fix."

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-12-2014 09:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Aviation Week obtained an internal NASA report (source-selection document) detailing why Sierra Nevada was not — and Boeing and SpaceX were — chosen for the CCtCap contract.
The internal document, signed by NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier on Sept. 15, the day before the contract awards were announced, says, "I consider SNC's (Sierra Nevada Corp.) design to be the lowest level of maturity, with significantly more technical work and critical design decisions to accomplish. The proposal did not thoroughly address these design challenges and trades." Gerstenmaier goes on to say that Sierra's proposal "has more schedule uncertainty. For example, some of the testing planned after the crewed flight could be required before the crewed flight, and the impact of this movement will greatly stress the schedule."

Although the document praises Sierra's "strong management approach to ensure the technical work and schedule are accomplished," it cautions that the company's Dream Chaser had "the longest schedule for completing certification." The letter also states that "it also has the most work to accomplish which is likely to further extend its schedule beyond 2017, and is most likely to reach certification and begin service missions later than the other 'Offerors'."

Aeropix
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posted 10-13-2014 09:34 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Aeropix   Click Here to Email Aeropix     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"I consider SNC's (Sierra Nevada Corp.) design to be the lowest level of maturity, with significantly more technical work and critical design decisions to accomplish."
This quote brings me back to my original point, that NASA should be promoting this kind of endeavor BECAUSE it has the most technical work to accomplish. This is how technologies are matured.

It's again disappointing that NASA, whose "mission" is to promote research and development in both aeronautics and space, is choosing technology based on the fastest and easiest route without awarding consideration for the long-term benefit, that is the future benefits that could be derived from bringing the Dream Chaser philosophy to maturity.

I thought the whole point of this new paradigm of commercial space was to foster a diversity of methods of transportation into LEO, not repeating the mistakes of the early space race where (to quote from the "Right Stuff") we took the fastest route possible to get a man in space "quick and dirty, and any way we can".

Again, if the pride of the nation is at stake, and expedience is one requirement, why not choose one "quick and dirty" method (i.e. the CST-100 or Dragon) and follow it with the more complex approach of Dream Chaser if only for the long-term benefit of encouraging the development of that skill-set and knowledge? Wouldn't that be a more satisfying, comprehensive, and well rounded approach to the pursuit not only of exploration but of new technology as well? Isn't THAT what NASA is supposed to be achieving, not JUST getting a man-in-a-can as soon as possible?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-13-2014 09:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Aeropix:
...NASA should be promoting this kind of endeavor BECAUSE it has the most technical work to accomplish.
NASA has been promoting it. Dream Chaser wouldn't be anywhere close to where it is today were it not for NASA's CCDev awards.

But at the end of the day, NASA's need (and congressionally-mandated requirement) is to resume manned flights from the U.S. to the space station in the soonest and safest way possible.

NASA's programs have developed a diversity of methods of transportation to low Earth orbit, including but not limited to Dream Chaser. But from the start, NASA's interest has been in the way those vehicles can support the space station.

Jim Behling
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posted 10-13-2014 07:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by mercsim:
SNC has experience. Demonstrating autonomous flight and landing was a MAJOR milestone.
That is a small part of the whole flight envelope.
quote:
Boeing is a giant political machine but when are they flying?
They have X-37, ISS, shuttle and many other spacecraft experience. They didn't need to have any CST-100 specific flying to be selected.

Jim Behling
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posted 10-13-2014 07:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Aeropix:
It's again disappointing that NASA, whose "mission" is to promote research and development in both aeronautics and space, is choosing technology based on the fastest and easiest route without awarding consideration for the long-term benefit, that is the future benefits that could be derived from bringing the Dream Chaser philosophy to maturity.
Wrong on many counts.
  1. Having wings does not equate to being better or more advanced. In fact, it is drawback in this application.

  2. Capsules are not retro or backwards. CST-100 will land on the ground and Dragon may perform propulsive landings.

  3. CCP is to service the ISS first while promoting commercial space. It is not to advance the science. Anyways, if you have a problem with the spacecraft; what about the launch vehicles?

  4. CST-100 is a more adaptable vehicle than Dream Chaser and is more adaptable to other missions.

Aeropix
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posted 10-14-2014 02:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Aeropix   Click Here to Email Aeropix     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jim Behling:
Having wings does not equate to being better or more advanced. In fact, it is drawback in this application.
Winged space vehicles provide more opportunities for landing and thus less disruption to time critical science-return. They have much gentler re-entry profiles, also allowing for wider range of sample returns/downmass. This gentler re-entry profile is a benefit to long duration astronaut return, and allow a wider latitude for acceptance of scientists or space-participants who might not be in their peak physical health. All of these are benefits, not drawbacks, to the ISS support role.
quote:
Capsules are not retro or backwards. CST-100 will land on the ground
Just like Soviet/Russian capsules have done for 50 years. That does not sound like a big advance to the state-of-the-art.
quote:
...and Dragon may perform propulsive landings.
With some cost in upmass capability. And not to mention the complications of this as yet untried technology. I do applaud them for trying this capability, but then the main argument against Dream Chaser was because there was too much new technology to develop in relation to its design, it seems a bit hypocritical to say that while supporting this.
quote:
CCP is to service the ISS first while promoting commercial space. It is not to advance the science.
Then in following this line of thought, why not continue with Dream Chaser, which is based on lifting body technology that we have long tested, and flight profiles that have been well known since X-15 and Shuttle, instead of letting all this acquired skill and knowledge die off.
quote:
Anyways, if you have a problem with the spacecraft; what about the launch vehicles?
Don't get me started on that, where's the fly-back booster from the 60's? But that is an argument for another thread, and what's more I'm not trying to be petulant, and do understand the budgetary limits and scope of the program we are discussing.
quote:
CST-100 is a more adaptable vehicle than Dream Chaser and is more adaptable to other missions.
Yes, but as you said earlier the CCP budget is for building a taxi to LEO, and if Boeing wants money for CST because it is better for other applications (a point that I do agree with you on) then the money for CST should come out of deep-space or Lunar funding rather than the budget for the LEO taxi.

I hope that my contentions are not misconstrued as whining or wishful thinking. I understand the exigencies of choosing the right tool for the job, and staying within budget etc.

I guess I'm just frustrated with the situation that NASA, a research arm of our government, is not distributing money in the way that I as both a space enthusiast and taxpayer, believe to be in the long term interest of the greater good. Further, I hope that a reconsideration of this selection can be used to foster further innovation, protect the intellectual assets we have invested heavily in during the Shuttle era, and still return US astronauts to indigenous vehicles in the short term.

I'm not just complaining because I think the Dream Chaser would be fashionable or "cool", but because I think that NASA should better balance the need for expediency with the larger focus of our future in both LEO and deep space. So I believe that a mixed approach of choosing both a capsule and winged vehicle would satisfy the scientific / research goals concurrent with the aim of providing a variety of methods for access to space.

Jim Behling
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posted 10-14-2014 05:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Aeropix:
Winged space vehicles provide more opportunities for landing.
Not true. A winged vehicle would have more weather restrictions.
quote:
With some cost in upmass capability. And not to mention the complications of this as yet untried technology.
And wings don't reduce up mass? Anyways, your point has no merit.
  1. So what if it does, the booster has the capability, and
  2. the propellant for landing is the same that would be used in case of a launch abort. If there is no launch abort, then there is access propellant for landing.
quote:
...instead of letting all this acquired skill and knowledge die off.
Why do the skills need to be saved? What says winged vehicles are necessary? Anyways, we don't need Dream Chaser for that, there is X-37.
quote:
...then the money for CST should come out of deep-space or lunar funding rather than the budget for the LEO taxi.
No, the other applications are for the ISS, like reboost and such. Also, the lunar and deep space mods are easy.
quote:
So I believe that a mixed approach of choosing both a capsule and winged vehicle would satisfy the scientific/research goals concurrent with the aim of providing a variety of methods for access to space.
Disagree. We need multiple ways of getting into space but not returning. Wings are useless in space. Why drive a design for only a small phase of the mission?

Ross
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posted 10-15-2014 08:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ross   Click Here to Email Ross     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'll add my five cents worth (anything less is not legal tender in Australia {smile}). We need to separate LEO missions from Deep Space missions. They have different missions profiles and different requirements. I believe the ultimate solution is to used a winged horizontal takeoff and landing vehicle such as UK's proposed Skylon for LEO missions and non-winged vehicles for Deep Space missions. Eventually these later vehicles will be built in either Earth or Moon orbit as they won't need to undergo the riggers of launch or landing on Earth.

Thus the Dream Chaser would have been nice but, as Jim points out, there is still the USAF's X-37 and there was only a limited amount of money and time requirements set by Congress.

Lou Chinal
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posted 10-15-2014 09:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Instead of Earth or Luna orbit, one of the Lagrangian points can be used to assemble large spacecraft bound for deep space activities.

I don't doubt both the Dream Chaser and the CST-100 will work. Now the question is which will work out economical. It all comes down to propellant weight vs. payload weight.

Which side will win when the subsiding runs out? In the free market isn't there room for both? If I have learned anything from flying it is to retain the opinion of flexibility.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-16-2014 06:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
...the company could still file for an injunction to again halt Boeing's and SpaceX's work.
And that is what Sierra Nevada has done, according to the Wall Street Journal:
Sierra Nevada on Wednesday asked the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington to prevent Boeing and SpaceX, as the Southern California company is known, from receiving payments under separate contracts awarded last month by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop, test and operate commercial-crew vehicles to take U.S. astronauts into orbit.

...Mark Sirangelo, head of space systems at Sierra Nevada, on Wednesday confirmed that "we have filed with the federal court." A NASA spokeswoman declined to comment on the litigation.

Both the original protest and the court papers filed Wednesday remain under seal, covered by a GAO protective order that is common while such a protest is being considered.

The GAO, which received a draft version of the request for an injunction before it was filed, declined to comment except to say that the agency would continue to evaluate Sierra Nevada's underlying claims of contract irregularities.

issman1
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posted 10-16-2014 02:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for issman1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Not sure what SNC is going to achieve by this legal action except give Soyuz continued monopoly on ISS access.

Not that there is anything wrong with Western astronauts launching and landing in Soyuz, but the sooner station crews have multiple access the less chance of the station being abandoned.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-21-2014 07:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
...the company could still file for an injunction to again halt Boeing's and SpaceX's work.
They did, and were denied, SpaceNews reports.
A federal court ruled against a motion by Sierra Nevada Corp. Oct. 21 to reinstate a suspension of work by two companies on commercial crew contracts awarded by NASA last month.

Judge Marian Blank Horn issued the order after a hearing earlier in the day on a motion filed by Sierra Nevada with the Court of Federal Claims here Oct. 15 requesting that a stop-work order on two Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts that NASA overrode earlier this month be restored.

"Given the urgency to resolve the override issue, the court provided the parties with a verbal decision declining to overrule the override," Horn wrote in a brief order issued by the court. The order did not explain the rationale for the decision, and the hearing was closed to the public.

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