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NASA hails SpaceX’s taxi for future crew

SpaceX Crew Dragon
An artist’s conception shows SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule en route to the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

NASA has ordered its first mission from SpaceX to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, six months after placing a similar order with Boeing.

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said today in a news release. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

Both companies are developing space taxis for NASA’s use as early as 2017, under the terms of multibillion-dollar contracts that were awarded last year.

Even though the first order went to Boeing, it has not yet been determined whether Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule or SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will go first. The contracts required NASA to put in its orders early, but the scheduling decisions and required certifications will be made at a later time.

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Boeing and Lockheed protest bomber snub

Image: Northrop Grumman ad
Northrop Grumman has been given an Air Force contract to build the Long Range Strike Bomber – a concept that was touted in a Super Bowl ad. (Northrop Grumman photo)

Boeing and Lockheed Martin say they’ve filed a formal protest of last month’s Pentagon decision to award a bomber contract worth as much as $80 billion to a competitor, Northrop Grumman.

The stealthy Long Range Strike Bomber is scheduled for deployment in the 2020s as a replacement for the Air Force’s decades-old B-1 and B-52 bombers. The Boeing-Lockheed team and Northrop Grumman both put in proposals, and both teams saw the contract as crucial for their long-term military business.

The Air Force made its selection using a mostly classified process, and announced the award to Northrop Grumman on Oct. 27. In today’s statement, Boeing and Lockheed Martin said the process was “fundamentally flawed.”

“The cost evaluation performed by the government did not properly reward the contractors’ proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves of defense acquisitions, or properly evaluate the relative or comparative risk of the competitors’ ability to perform, as required by the solicitation,” the companies said.

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Boeing misses out on NASA cargo contract

Image: Starliner
An artist’s conception shows Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi in orbit. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing says it’s out of the running for NASA’s next contract to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, but it’ll still be sending up cargo as well as astronauts on its CST-100 Starliner spaceship under the terms of different deal.

The update came as NASA said that its selection of contractors for the second round of commercial resupply services for the space station, previously scheduled to be announced today, would have to wait.

“CRS2 is a complex procurement,” NASA said in an emailed statement. “The anticipated award date has been revised to no later than January 30, 2016, to allow time to complete a thorough proposal evaluation and selection. Since the agency is in the process of evaluating proposals, we are in a procurement communications blackout. For that reason, NASA cannot answer questions about this procurement at this time.”

The CRS2 contracts are likely to be worth billions of dollars, and would cover a period running from 2018 to 2024.

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After 15 years, it’s time to remodel space station

Image: International Space Station
The International Space Station has been continuously occupied since 2000. (NASA photo)

Today marks the 15th anniversary of that first moving-in day for spacefliers living on the International Space Station – and like many places that have been lived in for 15 years, the ISS is in the midst of renovations.

This isn’t your typical “reno,” however: There’s no other place where the doors have to be replaced while the construction site is moving at 18,000 mph, 225 miles above Earth’s surface. That’s basically what’s involved in getting the station ready for the arrival of Boeing and SpaceX crew transport ships in the 2017 time frame.

“To implement it on orbit is extremely complex, and must be orchestrated very carefully,” John Vollmer, Boeing’s chief engineer for the space station project, says in a video marking the anniversary. Boeing is the prime contractor for the station’s U.S. segment.

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Boeing’s CEO lists Amazon as rival (or partner)

Image: Muilenburg
Boeing’s Dennis Muilenburg addresses the SAE 2015 AeroTech Congress. (Credit: Alan Boyle)

Two months into his job as the Boeing Co.’s president and CEO, Dennis Muilenburg says Amazon and Facebook are emerging as competitors in the aerospace industry, due to their plans to develop drones for package deliveries and Internet services.

But they could also emerge as business partners, Muilenburg said Tuesday during his keynote address at this week’s SAE 2015 AeroTech Congress and Exhibition in Seattle.

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