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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