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NASA Picks Finalists for Space Station Resupply Demonstrations

Private Spaceflight Firm Takes Aims at NASA Cargo Flights
This artist's illustration depicts the automated PlanetSpace Modular Cargo Carrier supply ship as it is attached to the International Space Station using the outpost's robotic arm. Inset: An ATK booster launches the cargo ship spaceward. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin/PlanetSpace/ATK.)

WASHINGTON — NASA has narrowed the field ofprivate space companies vying for $175 million in public funds the U.S. space agency expects to award in early February for demonstration flights to the InternationalSpace Station, according to industry sources closely following the competition.

Atleast eight firms, and perhaps as many as 14, submitted proposals in lateNovember under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.Established in 2006, COTS aims to spur development of privately operated spacetransportation systems capable of delivering cargo and eventually astronauts tothe space station.

NASAselected two companies — SpaceExploration Technologies Corp. and Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) — in mid-2006to share about $500 million. But NASA has since pulledthe plug on RpK's award for non-performance, freeing up the $175 millionNASA intends to give to some other company next month.

Accordingto multiple industry sources, NASA has notified four companies that they arefinalists for the $175 million and should prepare to meet with COTS selectionofficials in Houston in the days ahead to defend their proposals.

Spacehabwas one of the companies notified the week of Jan. 14 that it had made the cut,Eva DeCardenas, a spokeswoman for the Houston-based company, confirmed Jan. 17.

Theother companies, according to sources are: Andrews Space of Seattle; OrbitalSciences of Dulles, Va.; and PlanetSpace ofChicago.

NASAspokeswoman Beth Dickey would not confirm that a downselect had taken placesince the COTS competition remains under way.

Industrysources said NASA intends to announce its final selection Feb. 7, the date bywhich the U.S. Government Accountability Office is required to rule on RpK'schallenge of NASA's use of Space Act Agreements for the COTS program. RpKmaintains that a traditional federal contract would be a better fit for COTS.

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Brian Berger

Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and He joined SpaceNews covering NASA in 1998 and was named Senior Staff Writer in 2004 before becoming Deputy Editor in 2008. Brian's reporting on NASA's 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident and received the Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville Chapter in 2019. Brian received a bachelor's degree in magazine production and editing from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.