Orbital Sciences was one of the companies that submitted CCDev-2 proposals but did not get funded, raising the question of whether they will stay involved in the larger commercial crew effort. On Thursday, company officials indicated they would likely not pursue further work in this area.
“It was disappointing that we weren’t selected” for a CCDev-2 award, Orbital CEO Dave Thompson said in a conference call with financial analysts to discuss the company’s first quarter financial results. “I don’t, at this time, anticipate that we’ll continue to pursue our own project in that race. We’ll watch it and if an opportunity develops we may reconsider. But at this point, I would not anticipate a lot of activity on our part in the commercial crew market.”
Thompson, though, was supportive in general of the commercial crew effort. “NASA is on a good track to turn over astronaut transportation to commercial operators, and I think ultimately the agency will be successful at doing that,” he said.
So why did Orbital not get a CCDev-2 award? From the source selection statement about the awards, it appears that Orbital did not stack up as well as Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), another company that proposed a lifting body concept. “SNC scored higher in business considerations and demonstrated a strong commitment to the public-private partnership associated with the Commercial Crew Program,” the statement reads. Also, SNC’s Dream Chaser could carry more people than Orbital’s Prometheus (seven versus four) and also required a “more modest Atlas V variant”, giving it more margin should the spacecraft’s mass increase. SNC’s proposal did have a flaw in terms of its launch abort capabilities, something NASA believes that the company hadn’t adequately understood, but given the proposal’s other strengths it got a higher rating than Orbital’s, enough for SNC to win a CCDev-2 award and Orbital to be shut out—perhaps for good.