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The competition heats up: With NASA once again delaying its decision on the next contract round for supplying cargo to ISS — this time to January — Boeing also revealed that NASA had eliminated the company from the competition, leaving only SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada in the running for the two contracts.
Earlier I had said that if the decision had been up to me, which of course it isn’t, I would pick Orbital and Sierra Nevada, since SpaceX and Boeing already have contracts to ferry crews to ISS. If you add Orbital’s Cygnus and Sierra Nevada’s reusable Dream Chaser, you then have four different spacecraft designs capable of bring payloads into orbit, a robust amount of redundancy that can’t be beat. When I wrote that I also noted that I thought it wouldn’t happen because Boeing’s clout with Congress and NASA would make it a winner.
With Boeing now out of the picture, it seems to me that the reason NASA has delayed its final decision again is that it wants to see what happens with the return to flight launches of Dragon and Cygnus in the next three months. A SpaceX Dragon success will cement that company’s position in the manned contract area, while an Orbital ATK Cygnus succuss will make picking them for a second contract seem less risky. In addition, maybe NASA wants Sierra Nevada to fly another glide test of its Dream Chaser test vehicle, and is now giving it the time to do so.