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Sunday, 20 January 2008

NASA Picks Finalists for Space Station Resupply Demonstrations

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.

Artist's concept of Rocketplane-Kistler's K-1 Orbital Vehicle.

WASHINGTON — NASA has narrowed the field of private space companies vying for $175 million in public funds the U.S. space agency expects to award in early February for demonstration flights to the International Space Station, according to industry sources closely following the competition.

At least eight firms, and perhaps as many as 14, submitted proposals in late November under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Established in 2006, COTS aims to spur development of privately operated space transportation systems capable of delivering cargo and eventually astronauts to the space station.

NASA selected two companies — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) — in mid-2006 to share about $500 million. But NASA has since pulled the plug on RpK's award for non-performance, freeing up the $175 million NASA intends to give to some other company next month.

According to multiple industry sources, NASA has notified four companies that they are finalists for the $175 million and should prepare to meet with COTS selection officials in Houston in the days ahead to defend their proposals.

Spacehab was one of the companies notified the week of Jan. 14 that it had made the cut, Eva DeCardenas, a spokeswoman for the Houston-based company, confirmed Jan. 17.

The other companies, according to sources are: Andrews Space of Seattle; Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va.; and PlanetSpace of Chicago.

NASA spokeswoman Beth Dickey would not confirm that a downselect had taken place since the COTS competition remains under way.

Industry sources said NASA intends to announce its final selection Feb. 7, the date by which the U.S. Government Accountability Office is required to rule on RpK's challenge of NASA's use of Space Act Agreements for the COTS program. RpK maintains that a traditional federal contract would be a better fit for COTS.

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