NASA Will Have To Pay More Money For Less Cargo Resupply To The International Space Station: A new analysis finds that NASA will pay significantly more for commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station in the year the 2020s rather than enjoy cost savings from maturing systems.
NASA Will Have To Pay More Money For Less Cargo Resupply To The International Space Station
According to a report by the space agency’s inspector general, Paul Martin, NASA will likely pay $400 million more for its second round of delivery contracts from the year 2020 to 2024 even though the agency will be moving six fewer tons of cargo.
On a cost per kilogram basis, this represents a 14-percent increase.
One of the main reasons for this increase, the report says, is a 50-percent increase in prices from SpaceX, which has thus far flown the bulk of missions for NASA’s commercial cargo program with its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket.
It is somewhat surprising because, during the first round of supply missions, which began in the year 2012, SpaceX has substantially lower costs than NASA’s other partner, Orbital ATK.
SpaceX and Orbital ATK are expecting to fly 31 supply missions between the years 2012 and 2020, the first phase of the supply contract.
Of those, the new report states, SpaceX is scheduled to complete 20 flights at an average cost of $152.1 million grant.
Orbital ATK is scheduling to complete 11 missions at an average cost of $262.6 million grant.
But that cost differential will mostly evaporate in the second round of cargo supply contracts. For flights from the years 2020 to 2024.
SpaceX will increase its price while Orbital ATK cuts its own by 15 percent.
The new report provides unprecedented public detail about the second phase of commercial resupply contracts is known as CRS-2, which NASA is awarding in a competitively bid process in the year 2016.
SpaceX and Orbital ATK again won contracts for a minimum of six flights, along with a new provider, Sierra Nevada Corp.
And it’s Dream Chaser vehicle. Bids by Boeing and Lockheed Martin were not accepting.
Three factors drove the higher costs for the CRS-2 contracts—$71,800 per kg versus $63,200 during the first round the inspector general found.
These were higher prices from SpaceX, NASA’s decision to have three companies participating in the program instead of two and the integration costs of berthing and docking the three different spacecraft to the International Space Station.
For these extra costs, NASA will be getting more capability, including the more significant capacity for pressurising cargo.
This should reduce the overall number of flights and accordingly reduce the time requiring by astronauts to capture, load, and unload cargo resupply spacecraft.
The space agency will also have three providers instead of two, which will offer increased flexibility in case one of the three providers has an accident or other problem that delays its ability to fly.
The inspector general cited some reasons for SpaceX’s 50 percent price increase per kg, including an upgrade to the company’s second generation of Dragon spacecraft that increasing the cargo volume by 30 percent, more extending duration missions, and quicker access to the Dragon 2 spacecraft after it returns science samples to Earth.
Perhaps most tellingly, the inspector general’s report notes the following about SpaceX’s reasoning.
They are also indicating that their CRS-2 pricing reflected a better understanding of the costs involving after several years of experience with cargo resupply missions.
It is suggesting the company either under-bid on the first round of supply contracts or failing to achieve some of the cost savings it was hoping to make. The company declined to comment to Ars.
Even so, the report is not all bad news for SpaceX. In comparing prices, the inspector general says that SpaceX should receive credit for the capacity to return cargo to Earth, a capability that Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft does not have.
The company, along with NASA, were also credited with lowering costs in the overall launch market by pushing through the development of the Falcon 9 rocket.
Officials believe competition has contributing to lower prices for NASA launches, the report states.
NASA officials are reviewing past launch pricing and found the cost for a basic Atlas V configuration decreasing by roughly $20 million per launch after the Falcon 9 became eligible in the year 2013 to compete for launch services contracts through the Agency’s Launch Services Program.
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