For the CCiCap losers, what’s next?

On Friday morning NASA will announce the winners of the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability, or CCiCap, awards, the next phase of the agency’s commercial crew program. Already some news is leaking out about the awardees: both the Wall Street Journal and report that Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX will receive funded awards, with apparently Boeing and SpaceX getting “full-sized” awards and Sierra Nevada a smaller one, complying with the agreement between NASA and key House appropriator Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) to make no more than “two and a half” awards.

However, more than just those three companies submitted awards. ATK made a major push for its Liberty concept, and it’s possible Blue Origin (who, along with Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX, had funded second-round commercial crew development, or CCDev-2, awards) and Excalibur Almaz (which had an unfunded CCDev-2 agreement) may have submitted proposals as well. What will these companies do going forward without a funded CCiCap agreement from NASA?

For Blue Origin, the company is likely to continue progress at a slower, but self-funded pace, relying on the investment that founder Jeff Bezos has made in the company since its inception. Excalibur Almaz, meanwhile, has shown an interest in commercial activities beyond Earth orbit: the company has been pushing circumlunar and deep space missions, seeing better opportunities there than in Earth orbit. Company officials speaking at the NSS’s International Space Development Conference in Washington, DC, in May suggested the company primarily sought an unfunded CCDev-2 agreement to permit some technical interchange with NASA to support the company’s future plans beyond LEO.

ATK is another story, though: the company has invested significantly in its push for a CCiCap award, including a media blitz in the last month. Company officials have suggested they would continue to pursue the program, but at a slower pace, without NASA funding. At the NewSpace 2012 conference last week, ATK’s Kent Rominger outlined an aggressive schedule for Liberty that called for flight tests beginning in 2014 and crew flights starting in 2015, but that schedule depends on winning a full CCiCap award. Rominger said NASA asked them what would happen if they got only two-thirds of their requested funding. “My schedule went out about seven months,” he said. “Proportionally from there it just continues to go out further to the right with less funding.”

And what if the reports are wrong and it’s Sierra Nevada left out of the CCiCap awards? Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems, also spoke at NewSpace 2012 and, during a luncheon address, talked about the perseverance the company had in the past trying to win a different NASA contract, which they finally did after several setbacks. Does that mean the company has a Plan B if they don’t win a CCiCap award? “Yeah, we have a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D,” he said. He declined to go into details about what those backplan plans are, though, saying he would want to consult with his “space family”—those working on the Dream Chaser program—before making any decisions on those plans. “We will discuss those contingency plans if necessary. This is not the time or place to do that.”

6 comments to For the CCiCap losers, what’s next?

  • Coastal Ron

    If it is Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX, then I think only Blue Origin will stay in the space business long-term.

    For Excaliber Almaz, I just don’t see a long-term business, even if they do get enough passengers to do a couple of tourism flights.

    For ATK, unless they can find customers for their rocket I don’t see them staying in business long enough to do anything with their spacecraft. But does anyone know of a market niche that the Liberty rocket addresses better than any other existing (and already proven) rocket? And if the Falcon Heavy becomes operational, it will offer more capacity for 2/3 the price – how will ATK gain marketshare against that? I just don’t see a bright and vibrant future for the Liberty rocket, even if they did win a NASA CCiCap award.

  • Fred Willett

    Come 2015 Cargo Resupply (CRS) will be ending and NASA will be looking for cargo AND crew vehicles.
    The current US CRS vehicles are Dragon (SpaceX) and Cygnus (Orbital) but of all the cargo vessels ATV, HTV, Progress, Dragon and Cygnus only Dragon offers any real down mass.
    It wouldn’t surprise me if, when calling for bids for the 2016-2020 period NASA lumped the cargo and crew together and awarded a mixture of crew and cargo flights to all of Boeing, SpaceX and SNC.
    That would give them 3 vehicles capable of crew, cargo up and cargo down. It would mean real competition. Unfortunately in this scenario Orbital’s more limited vehicle dips out.

  • always right

    if true, this is the death for ATK’s space ambitions, since, after the Shuttles’ retirement, ATK will only sell 4-6 SRB5s for the 70 mt payload $L$, then, NASA will adopt only liquid fueled boosters (likely made by Aerojet/P&WR) for the 130 mt payload $L$ … Blue Origin will be closed soon because Bezos do not invest in things that can’t make huge profits … Excalibur Almaz will remain only a website&concept since no one invest in an old Soviet Union hardware that has zero paying customers … the DREAMchaser has been funded by NASA only to give the illusion (and ONLY the illusion) to have soon a cheaper version of the (expensive but successful) Space Shuttle and a 3rd option to carry astronauts to the ISS, but, if NASA hasn’t fully funded the DRAMchaser, clearly it doesn’t believe in this project, that, after all, derives from the HL-20, that’s one of NASA most expensive ($5+ billion) failed projects … about the CST-100 … now Boeing only needs to find the BIG BUG inside the project, to safely develop it … while, SpaceX must still man-rate the Falcon-9 and demonstrate, with dozens successful launches in a row, that its TEN-engines rocket is safe and reliable enough to carry humans … in other words, NASA still hasn’t any SURE replacement for the retired Shuttles and the russian Soyuz …

  • CharlesHouston

    The business case for ATK and the Liberty rocket is not good. Still, I just talked to Brian Duffy (ATK representative in Houston) and he did say what Kent Rominger said – that ATK would continue but at a slower pace.
    The two capsules selected (the Dragon and the CST=100) are different. Dragon is over designed and CST-100 is a simpler, no frills vehicle. The DreamChaser is attractive since it lands on a runway but winged vehicles are not as efficient as capsules. How would Liberty find a niche among the other offerings?
    One, long term, avenue might be the extended cargo attachment for Liberty, at some point that would help to restore some of the lost Shuttle capabilities. But would ATK hang on that long and hope to sell the entire rocket for that capability? Likely not.

  • StephenB

    always right: “Blue Origin will be closed soon because Bezos do not invest in things that can’t make huge profits”

    By that logic, Bezos wouldn’t have started Blue Origin in the first place.

  • Flechette

    If ATK really wants to continue in the space business (not just military missiles) they need to set up shop in Florida. Shipping large Shuttle-type solid rockets across the country is simply too expensive.

    If they poured the propellant into them at the laucnh site (even if they made all of the structure in Utah) they could cut their price in half.

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