NASA’s plan to extend its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts with Orbital Sciences Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will give the companies more time to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 lb.) each to the International Space Station (ISS) under a pair of fixed-price contracts valued at a combined $3.5 billion.
Under the terms of CRS agreements awarded in December 2008, Orbital and SpaceX are each on the hook to deliver 20,000 kg of food, supplies and science experiments to the orbiting outpost by Dec. 31, 2015. However, NASA officials say development of the companies’ new rockets and spacecraft has taken longer than planned, and both are running several years behind.
So far, Orbital has met 10% of its obligation in two launches, delivering 700 kg of supplies on the second of two demo flights of the company’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo capsule last September. In January, Orbital delivered another 1,300 kg to the ISS on the first of eight routine resupply runs to the orbiting outpost under the company’s $1.9 billion CRS agreement.
SpaceX, which plans 12 cargo runs under its $1.6 billion contract, has delivered just 1,435 kg so far in three flights to the ISS, including 460 kg carried on the second of two demos of the baseline Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo vessel in May 2012. Another 400 kg was delivered on the first CRS mission later that year, followed by 575 kg on the second mission in March 2013.
SpaceX and Orbital are poised to fly their next CRS missions to the space station in April and May, respectively. SpaceX’s third CRS flight, slated to launch April 14 from Cape Canaveral, will carry 2,089 kg of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS. The company is expected to conduct three additional CRS missions this year.
Orbital, which plans to launch its second CRS mission to the ISS on May 6, will conduct just one CRS flight in 2014, according to NASA’s consolidated launch manifest.
Under NASA’s initial one-year CRS contract extension, announced March 31, the companies have until the end of 2016 to meet their contractual obligations, with the possibility to extend the contracts an additional year to the end of 2017, when a follow-on CRS-2 contract is expected to cover flights through 2024, with a mission rate of up to five launches per year.
The CRS extension follows a January announcement by the White House that it intends to continue operating ISS four years beyond the station’s planned 2020 retirement.
NASA says the CRS-2 contract will be open to competition, potentially pitting cargo-carrying variants of vehicles in development at Boeing and Sierra Nevada against the incumbent Cygnus and Dragon vessels.
“Extending the CRS contracts allows more time for potential competitors to develop their offerings,” a NASA official says.