Commercial Crew Announcement this Week?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles now tells me that NASA is likely to inform the companies of their decision on Thursday morning. There is usually a lag between that action and a public press conference.

UPDATE: NASA will publicly announce the winners on Friday morning.

Charles Lurio of The Lurio Report has emailed me saying that he has heard from a very reliable source that NASA will announce the next round of commercial crew funding on Thursday or Friday. This is no independent verification of this report.

NASA is expected to make two full awards and one half award under Space Act Agreements to mature commercial launch systems and their spacecraft to transport crews to the International Space Station. This phase would be followed by one during which NASA would procure services using more rigorous Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contracting methods.

The competitors include:

  • ATK Liberty
  • Blue Origin Orbiter/ULA Atlas V
  • Boeing CST-100/ULA Atlas V
  • Excalibur Almaz
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation Dream Chaser/ULA Atlas V
  • SpaceX Dragon/Falcon 9

I had heard from a source during the NewSpace 2012 Conference that NASA’s announcement had been delayed from July because White House officials are not happy with one of the awards. It’s not clear precisely what that means, but speculation has focused on the possibility of ATK receiving an award for its Ares I-derived Liberty system.

Such a decision would complete the near total revival of NASA’s Constellation program, which the Obama Administration had attempted to cancel outright. After a Congressional push back, work has continued on the other elements of  Constellation — the deep-space Orion capsule and the heavy-lift Space Launch System.

Meanwhile, ATK has used the work it did on Constellation’s Ares I as the basis of a commercial launcher. Liberty’s first stage is a five-segment solid rocket motor derived from the system used on the space shuttle. It is topped with an Ariane 5 first stage. The capsule is a composite version of the deep-space Orion spacecraft that subcontractor Lockheed Martin is building for NASA.

An ATK award would anger many in the “NewSpace” community, who do not see the company as being very commercial and not impressed with the Liberty system. They will attribute such a decision to ATK’s lobbying efforts rather than the merits of its proposal.

I caution that this only speculation; there has been no confirmation.  It’s simply a possibility at this point.