U.S. Government Accountability Office Denies Protest By Sierra Nevada Corp.

Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft. Image Source: NASA

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft. Image Source: NASA

January 6, 2015 – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has denied a protest filed by Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) of Louisville, Colorado challenging the outcome of NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract award.

Sierra Nevada argued, among other things, that NASA’s evaluation departed from the solicitation’s stated evaluation and selection criteria by significantly elevating NASA’s stated “goal” of obtaining an integrated crew transportation system no later than the end of 2017, and by failing to put offerors on notice that the agency’s goal would be central to the evaluation and selection decision.

GAO disagreed with Sierra Nevada’s arguments about NASA’s evaluation and found no undue emphasis on NASA’s consideration of each offeror’s proposed schedule, and likelihood to achieve crew transportation system certification no later than 2017. GAO also noted that, contrary to Sierra Nevada’s assertions, the RFP clearly advised offerors that their proposals would be evaluated against the goal of certification by the end of 2017.

For the evaluation, Sierra Nevada offered its Dream Chaser crew transportation system, a lifting-body spacecraft that launches using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch vehicle, and lands horizontally on normal runways. Sierra Nevada’s price was $2.55 billion.

Boeing offered its CST-100 crew transportation system, a capsule spacecraft that also launches atop o United Launch Alliance Atlas V vehicle, and lands using parachute and airbag systems for hard-surface landings, or contingency water landings. Boeing’s price was $3.01 billion.

SpaceX offered its Crew Dragon crew transportation system, a capsule spacecraft that launches on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and lands using parachutes and propulsive soft landing systems for hard-surface landings, or contingency water landings. SpaceX’s price was $1.75 billion.

In making its selection decision in September 2014, NASA concluded that the proposals submitted by Boeing and SpaceX represented the best value to the government. Specifically, NASA recognized Boeing’s higher price, but also considered Boeing’s proposal to be the strongest of all three proposals in terms of technical approach, management approach, and past performance, and to offer the crew transportation system with most utility and highest value to the government.

NASA also recognized several favorable features in the SNC and SpaceX proposals, but ultimately concluded that SpaceX’s lower price made it a better value than the proposal submitted by SNC.

SNC argued that NASA conducted an inadequate review of the realism of SpaceX’s price and overall financial resources, conducted a flawed and disparate evaluation of proposals under the mission suitability factor, and improperly evaluated the relevance of offerors’ past performance. GAO concluded that these arguments were not supported by the evaluation record or by the terms of the solicitation.

NASA issued the following statement in response to the GAO decision: “The GAO has notified NASA that it has denied Sierra Nevada Corporation’s protest of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract awards. NASA is pleased the GAO’s decision allows the agency to move forward and continue working with Boeing and SpaceX on the Launch America initiative that will enable safe and reliable crew transportation to and from the International Space Station on American spacecraft launched from the United States, ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russie for such transportation. The case remains under the protective order and blackout until the GAO releases its decision.”

SNC is evaluating the GAO decision and still believes that the Dream Chaser spacecraft was qualified to win based on NASA’s high ratings of the space system. Although they are disappointed at the outcome of the protest, SNC remains fully committed to being a part of human spaceflight and enhanced cargo capabilities to low-Earth orbit. In doing so, SNC firmly believes that the Dream Chaser will play a central role in shaping the future of space transportation with its unique capabilities which address a wide spectrum of needs.

To that end, SNC has submitted its response to NASA’s Commercial Cargo Resupply Services 2 procurement and will continue to support that effort while maintaining its existing relationship with NASA.

SNC also plans to further the development and testing of the Dream Chaser and is making significant progress in its vehicle design and test program. In addition, SNC is continuing to expand its network of partnerships domestically, and abroad, in order to expand the multi-mission flexibility of the system, reduce overall long-term costs of the vehicle, and ensure long-term affordability and sustainability for the Dream Chaser. SNC plans to provide worldwide service for commercial space access, research and operations.