A NASA spokesman announced that the agency decided to extend the CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) contract with SpaceX and Orbital ATK for transporting cargo to the International Space Station. The additional missions are planned for 2017 and are intended to cover NASA’s needs until the new contract, called CRS 2, will be awarded. This extension provides three more missions for SpaceX spacecraft Dragon and another mission for the Orbital ATK spacecraft Cygnus.
Orbital ATK “inherited” the contract from Orbital Sciences after merging with Alliant Techsystems Inc., better known as ATK. In recent years, Orbital and SpaceX developed the first private spacecraft thanks to NASA’s COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) contract.
Both companies proved the ability of their spacecraft to reach the International Space Station, therefore they were awarded a CRS contract, which gave them the possibility to conduct a number of cargo transport missions to Station on behalf of NASA.
Now NASA is holding a new competition for the second round of the CRS contracts, hence called CRS 2. In the meantime, however, the agency needs to make a long-term plans for the supply missions. It’s for this reason that it was decided to use the option of an extension for 2017 even if the choice of the companies to award the CRS 2 contract should arrive as early as June 2015.
Orbital ATK should resume its missions towards the end of 2015 using an Atlas V rocket waiting for the new version of its Antares rocket. The company is still in the race for the CRS 2 contract. SpaceX hasn’t officially confirmed its participation in the new competition but everybody take it for granted.
Other participants are Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Lockheed Martin. Boeing plans to use a version of its CST-100 spacecraft, designed to carry astronauts, adapted for the transport of cargo. Sierra Nevada Corporation is trying to propose its mini-shuttle Dream Chaser for cargo transport as well. It will be really interesting to see NASA’s choices!