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Commercial Resupply Services

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Commercial Resupply Services

Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) are a series of contracts awarded by NASA from 2008–2016 for delivery of cargo and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) on commercially operated spacecraft. The first CRS contracts were signed in 2008 and awarded $1.6 billion to SpaceX for 12 cargo transport missions and $1.9 billion to Orbital Sciences for 8 missions, covering deliveries to 2016. In 2015, NASA extended the Phase 1 contracts by ordering an additional three resupply flights from SpaceX and one from Orbital Sciences. After additional extensions late in 2015, SpaceX is currently scheduled to have a total of 20 missions and Orbital 10.


SpaceX began flying resupply missions in 2012, using Dragon cargo spacecraft launched on Falcon 9 rockets from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Orbital Sciences began deliveries in 2013 using Cygnus spacecraft launched on the Antares rocket from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), Wallops Island, Virginia.

A second phase of contracts (known as CRS2) were solicited and proposed in 2014. They were awarded in January 2016 to Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX, for cargo transport flights beginning in 2019 and expected to last through 2024.


US public laws dating back to 1984 and 1990 have directed NASA to pursue commercial options for launching spaceflight missions, whenever such commercial offerings are available. By the 2000s, other more specific Congressional authorizations began to fund explicit development of commercial options for NASA, first for cargo services, and later for ISS crew transport services as well.

The selection of the firms resupplying the space station was publicly discussed by NASA on December 22, 2008. NASA announced the awarding of contracts for 12 flights by SpaceX and 8 flights by Orbital Sciences Corporation in a press conference on December 23, 2008. PlanetSpace submitted a protest to the Government Accountability Office after receiving a NASA briefing on the outcome of the award. On April 22, 2009 GAO publicly released its decision to deny the protest.

The launch vehicles and cargo carriers were developed using Space Act Agreements under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

SpaceX launched their first Falcon 9 rocket and a mock-up Dragon capsule successfully on June 4, 2010. Their first flight contracted by NASA, COTS Demo Flight 1, took place on December 8, 2010, demonstrating the Dragon capsule's multiple orbit capability, ability to receive and respond to ground commands, and ability to gain and maintain directional alignment with NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System narrow-band satellite communication system. On August 15, 2011, SpaceX announced NASA had combined the mission objectives of the COTS Demo Flight 2 and 3 missions into a single mission, with the COTS 3 validation tests beginning only if all of the COTS 2 objectives were successfully demonstrated first.

The COTS Demo Flight 2+ mission successfully launched on May 22, 2012, delivered cargo to the ISS and on May 31, landed in the Pacific and was recovered. On August 23, 2012, NASA announced that SpaceX had successfully completed its COTS Space Act Agreement and NASA certified SpaceX to begin their CRS contracted spaceflights. SpaceX began their first CRS flight in October 2012.

Orbital Sciences completed their COTS certification with a flight on September 29, 2013 and their first CRS mission was launched 9 January 2014.

NASA began a formal process to initiate Phase 2 of the Commercial Resupply Services, CRS2, in early 2014. Three companies were awarded contracts on 14 January 2016.

The docking of SpaceX CRS-8 at the ISS on April 10, 2016, while Cygnus CRS OA-6 was also docked, marked the first time a Dragon spacecraft and a Cygnus spacecraft were docked with the ISS at the same time. At the time, Dragon was docked at Harmony nadir, while Cygnus was docked at Unity nadir.

Phase 1 Missions

Transport flights began under phase 1 of the Commercial Resupply Services contract, CRS 1, in 2012 and are planned to continue until the CRS 2 contracts commence in 2019.


The first CRS mission, SpaceX CRS-1, was scheduled for October 8, 2012 at 00:35 UTC from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. It was the first of 12 planned resupply missions. CRS-1 took off on October 8, 2012 at 03:03:52 AM GMT, achieved orbit, berthing and remained on station until October 28, 2012. Dragon then re-entered the earth's atmosphere and successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX CRS-2, the second CRS mission from SpaceX, was successfully launched on March 1, 2013.

SpaceX CRS-3, SpaceX's third CRS mission, was scheduled for launch on March 30, 2014, but was delayed due to a fire at one of the radar facilities on the Eastern Range. The launch completed successfully on April 18.

SpaceX CRS-4, SpaceX's fourth CRS mission, was scheduled for launch on September 20, 2014, but was delayed due to adverse weather conditions; the launch occurred on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 1:52 a.m. EDT (0552 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceX CRS-5, SpaceX's fifth CRS mission, was scheduled for launch on December 9, 2014, but was delayed over several dates in December due to manifest adjustments for items lost from the Cygnus CRS Orb-3 launch failure, technical issues found from a static fire test, the U.S. holiday season and staff scheduling, as well as a beta angle period during late December where thermal and operational constraints would make a Dragon berthing prohibited. The launch was rescheduled for January 6, 2015. At 1 minute 27 seconds to launch, the launch was scrubbed due to a thrust vector actuator problem with the second stage engine. The launch was rescheduled to Saturday, January 10, 2015, which completed successfully at 4:47 AM Central time.

SpaceX CRS-6, SpaceX's sixth CRS mission, was successfully launched on April 14, 2015, at 20:10:41 UTC from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceX CRS-7, SpaceX's seventh CRS mission, was attempted on June 28, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission was unsuccessful, with an anomaly occurring during the ascent of the first stage, resulting in an explosion and a total loss of the vehicle.

SpaceX CRS-8, SpaceX's eighth CRS mission, was successfully launched on April 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The first stage landed successfully on SpaceX's drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX CRS-9, SpaceX's ninth CRS mission, was successfully launched on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The first stage landed successfully at Landing Zone 1.

SpaceX CRS-10, SpaceX's tenth CRS mission, was aborted on February 18, 2017 due to an anomaly in the Thrust Vector Control (TVC) of the second stage but successfully launched on the February 19th from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first stage landed successfully on Landing Zone 1.

Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences rolled out its Antares rocket to the launchpad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in October 2012 in preparation for an on-pad hot-fire test of the rocket in early November 2012. The rocket successfully made its initial launch with a test payload on April 21, 2013.

Orbital Sciences' first COTS demonstration mission was successfully carried out on September 29, 2013, a week behind schedule due to a software malfunction; this is a predecessor mission to the start of Orbital Commercial Resupply Services missions contracted by NASA to resupply the International Space Station. CRS-1 and CRS-2 followed on.

Orbital Sciences' 3rd Resupply mission (CRS-3) from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on 28 October 2014 failed. First Antares launch to use Castor 30XL upperstage, delayed due to boat in launch safe zone. Second takeoff attempt suffered a catastrophic anomaly resulting in an explosion shortly after launch. Contents of the cargo included: Food and care packages for the crew, parts, experiments, and the Arkyd-3 Flight Test (Non-optical) Satellite from Planetary Resources. Shortly after lift-off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at 6:22 p.m. (EDT), the vehicle suffered a catastrophic failure. According to NASA’s emergency operations officials, there were no casualties and property damage was limited to the south end of Wallops Island. The company decided to discontinue the Antares 100 series and accelerate the introduction of a new propulsion. The Antares 230 system will be upgraded with newly built RD-181 first-stage engines to provide greater payload performance and increased reliability.

In the meantime, the company had contracted with United Launch Alliance for an Atlas V launch of Orb CRS-4 in late 2015 from Cape Canaveral, FL. That mission also marked the debut of the bigger Enhanced Cygnus, which will be used for all following CRS contracted missions. The company planned Cygnus missions for the first (Orb CRS-5), second (Orb CRS-6) and fourth quarters (Orb CRS-7) of 2016. As of early September 2016, CRS Orb-5 and CRS Orb-7, planned to launch on the new Antares 230, have not yet launched due to ongoing development of the new rocket. They are planned for late September and December 30, respectively. CRS Orb-6 was successfully launched on March 23, 2016 by the Atlas V. The switch to the more powerful Atlas V and Antares 230, along with Enhanced Cygnus increased volume, will enable Orbital ATK to cover their initial CRS contracted payload obligation by Orb-7.

During August, 2015, Orbital ATK disclosed that they had received an extension of the resupply program for three extra missions. These additional missions will enable NASA to cover the ISS resupply needs until the Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract enters in effect. The Orb-8E flight has tentatively been scheduled for June 12, 2017 and Orb-9E and Orb-10E flights currently have no public schedule but are expected between 2017 and 2018.

Commercial Resupply Services 2

The Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract definition/solicitation period commenced in 2014 and a result announced on January 14 2016. The CRS2 launches are expected to commence in 2019, and extend to at least 2024.

Solicitation and proposal period

On February 21, 2014 NASA posted Request For Information (RFI) NNJ14ZBG007L about a possible follow on to the current Commercial Resupply Services (CRS1) to the International Space Station (ISS).

An "Industry Day" set of meetings was held in Houston on April 10, 2014, where seven high-level requirements for the second Cargo Resupply Services contract solicitation were disclosed to parties who may be interested in contracting with the government to supply "nonscheduled chartered freight air transportation" resupply services to the ISS in the 2015–2024 time period. The contracts were expected to include "delivery of pressurized and unpressurized cargo, return and disposal of pressurized cargo, disposal of unpressurized cargo, and ground support services for the end-to-end resupply mission":

  • delivery of approximately 14,000 to 17,000 kg (31,000 to 37,000 lb) per year 55 to 70 m3 (1,900 to 2,500 cu ft) of pressurized cargo in four or five transport trips
  • delivery of 24–30 powered lockers per year, requiring continuous power of up to 120 watts at 28 volts, with cooling and two-way communication services
  • delivery of approximately 1,500 to 4,000 kg (3,300 to 8,800 lb) per year of unpressurized cargo, consisting of 3 to 8 items, each item requiring continuous power of up to 250 watts at 28 volts, with cooling and two-way communication services
  • return/disposal of approximately 14,000 to 17,000 kg (31,000 to 37,000 lb) per year 55 to 70 m3 (1,900 to 2,500 cu ft) of pressurized cargo
  • disposal of 1,500 to 4,000 kg (3,300 to 8,800 lb) per year of unpressurized cargo, consisting of 3 to 8 items
  • various ground support services for the end-to-end ISS resupply mission
  • NASA planned to release the draft request for proposal (RFP) in May 2014 with a final RFP in June 2014. Proposals were due in July 2014, and at least two contracts were expected to be awarded.

    Five companies were known to have submitted proposals to NASA: SpaceX, Orbital ATK, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Lockheed Martin. Although the contract awards were originally anticipated by NASA in April 2015, they moved back to a June target date, and in April, delayed again to a contract award target date of September 2015 and the announcement was not made until January 14, 2016.

    CRS1 contractors Orbital Sciences and SpaceX each submitted CRS2 proposals. In addition, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) submitted proposals for CRS2. SNC's proposal would use a cargo version of its Dream Chaser crew vehicle, the Dream Chaser Cargo System, while Boeing's proposal would likewise use a cargo version of its CST-100 crew vehicle. The proposed cargo Dream Chaser included an additional expendable cargo module for uplift and trash disposal. Downmass would only be provided via the Dream Chaser spaceplane itself.

    Lockheed Martin proposed a cargo transport system called Jupiter, a spacecraft that was to be derived from designs of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission and the Juno spacecraft. It would include a robotic arm, from MDA based on Shuttle Arm technology. The Lockheed proposal included a new 4.4-meter (14 ft) diameter cargo transport module called Exoliner, based on the ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle, to be jointly developed with Thales Alenia Space.

    Contracts awarded

    On January 14, 2016, NASA announced that three companies had been awarded contracts for a minimum of six launches each. SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada Corporation won contracts. The maximum potential value of all the contracts was indicated to be $14Bn but the minimum requirements would be considerably less. No further financial information was disclosed. The missions involved would be from late 2019 through to 2024.

    Sierra Nevada Corporation's bid involved its Dream Chaser spacecraft which is intended to land horizontally and can offer a fast unloading time which could be important for science experiments.


    Commercial Resupply Services Wikipedia