Right now a number of companies are busy working on their proposals for funded Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreements as part of the new round (officially designated JSC-COTS-2) that opened up when NASA terminated its existing funded Space Act agreement with Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) last month. While NASA is proceeding with the competition, with proposals due Wednesday the 21st, there are still some factors involving RpK that could throw a wrench in NASA’s plans.
As Space News reported in its print edition this week, RpK filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) about the new competition on October 30. The protest is not about their original agreement, because that was performed under a Space Act agreement that, unlike conventional procurements, is not subject to GAO protests. “RpK did not protest our decision to terminate,” Neil Woodward of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate said Monday at the Reach to Space conference at George Washington University. RpK followed an appeal process internal to NASA that has since concluded, he said.
The RpK GAO protest, instead, is on how the new competition should be structured. “They did file a GAO protest on the second announcement,” Woodward said. “What they’re protesting is whether it should be done as a Space Act agreement or under federal procurement regulations; that is, whether it should be a FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] procurement, or whether it could be an agreement, which is what we have been doing.” While the protest proceeds, NASA is continuing with the current competition, with plans to make one or more awards early next year. Left unsaid is why RpK would seek to change the procurement process.
One of RpK’s major complaints about its original COTS award was that NASA was sending mixed messages about the level of support it was giving to the program, either though comments by NASA officials or its contract with Roskosmos for additional Progress and Soyuz flights to the ISS, making it difficult for RpK to demonstrate to potential investors that there was a viable market for commercial ISS resupply. Woodward disagreed that NASA, unintentionally or otherwise, gave out conflicting messages. “Our messages have actually been consistent” from the original COTS announcement to the request for information the agency issues earlier this year for COTS phase 2.