Chicago Firm Protests Space Station Cargo Contract
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.
Credit: Lockheed Martin/PlanetSpace/ATK.

WASHINGTON - Chicago-based PlanetSpace has filed a protest against NASA's decision to award space station resupply contracts valued at $3.5 billion to two other firms, one of which earned the lowest score for a bid that proposed the highest price.

The protest was filed with the U.S. Government Accountability (GAO) Office Jan. 14.  The GAO is required to issue its ruling by April 24.

PlanetSpace, a start-up company whose subcontractors include Boeing Co. of Chicago, Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems (ATK), earned a higher score and offered a lower price than Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

NASA, however, selected Orbital Sciences and Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) to haul 20 tons of cargo to the space station through 2016 under separate contracts potentially worth $3.1 billion each. The initial award calls for SpaceX to provide 12 flights for $1.6 billion and Orbital Sciences to provide eight flights for $1.9 billion.

SpaceX earned the highest score from NASA's Source Evaluation Board and offered the lowest price, followed by PlanetSpace which earned the second-highest score.

PlanetSpace "received a higher Mission Suitability score, from NASA's Source Evaluation Board (SEB), and was lower in Cost than one of the two proposals selected by NASA. Thus, the PlanetSpace proposal represented better value to the Government. We believe that the GAO will find that flaws in the procurement justify award to PlanetSpace. We look forward to the GAO's review of this case," PlanetSpace officials said in a Jan. 15 press release announcing the protest.

According to source selection documents, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, believed PlanetSpace relied too heavily on its subcontractors. He also expressed concern that the firm proposed using an existing rocket to provide initial cargo delivery before switching to the Athena 3 solid-fueled rocket ATK proposed to build in time to enter service in 2013.

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