Orbital ATK cargo contract extended

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The competition heats up: NASA has ordered two more cargo flights from Orbital ATK.

Orbital ATK, Dulles, Virginia, will fly two more missions under its 2008 contract for a total of 10 flights, according to Orbital ATK spokeswoman Vicki Cox. The company designated the missions OA-9e and OA-10e, Cox said. She declined to say when those flights will occur, although the company has said it plans to launch any new CRS missions it gets from NASA on Antares once it completes two deliveries using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. The Atlas 5 launches are slated for December and early 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA may also order additional cargo flights from its other CRS contractor, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California. “A modification is in work with both [CRS] providers,” NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz wrote in an Aug. 13 email. “Additional missions for SpaceX are still under discussion.”

That this contract extension occurs about the same time NASA decided to delay its decision on the second round of cargo contracts is probably not a coincidence. It suggests to me that the agency is probably seriously considering awarding one of the next contracts to a more risky proposal, such as Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser. In that case, extending the present contracts gives them some additional margin should the new contractors have problems.


One comment

  • Edward

    On the other hand, NASA could be considering awarding *both* of the next contracts to more risky proposals. If the backup plan is to extend the current contracts should one or more of the riskier proposals fail to perform, then there is little downside to choosing two proposals that take bold steps forward.

    Sierra Nevada has proposed a reusable craft, a variation of its Dream Chaser. Reusable is desirable, and NASA may want to support this in order to encourage reusable designs in the future.

    Lockheed Martin has proposed a space tug, Jupiter. This concept may also be desirable in order to encourage a more permanent presence of useful and reusable hardware that is based in space.

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