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NASA postpones multi-billion dollar contract announcement

For the third time, NASA has postponed the announcement of the winner or winners of a multi-billion dollar contract to ferry cargo to the ISS. Boeing's bid was rejected.

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The International Space Station is seen with the docked space shuttle Endeavour in this photo taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking and is the first-ever image of a space shuttle docked to the ISS, on May 23, 2011. The handful of US aviation private companies vying for a contract to ferry cargo to the ISS will have to wait a little longer, NASA said. The space agency on Thursday said the contract winners will not be announced until Jan. 30.

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The announcement for the winner of a multi-billion dollar contract to fly to the International Space Station has been pushed back by NASA.

Several space companies have lobbied for a cargo flight contract from NASA to fly to the International Space Station. The competitors included Boeing, Lockheed Martin Corp, Sierra Nevada, Orbital ATK Inc., and SpaceX. A winner was expected to be announced Thursday, but has now been pushed back until Jan. 30.

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The reasons behind the change of dates is still unknown. NASA spokeswoman Kathryn Hambleton told Reuters, “this is a very complex procurement.” NASA will be going on a communication black-out while it goes through the remaining bids.

With the announcement of the change of date, Boeing also received news that it would no longer be considered for the contract. A similar message was sent to Lockheed Martin Corp earlier. Sierra Nevada and Orbital confirmed they were still in the running and SpaceX has not yet responded.

“We received a letter from NASA and are out of CRS-2,” Boeing spokeswoman Kelly Kaplan wrote in an email to Reuters. “I don’t think we’ll know the ‘why’ until our debrief with NASA.”

Losing the bid for the ISS contract is another in a string of blows for Boeing. The aviation company recently lost the contract for the US Air Force's Long Range Bomber competition, which was estimated at $80 billion.

One possible explanation for the delay in choosing the winner or winners of the contract (NASA has suggested they may grant multiple contracts), could be the recent setbacks experienced by Orbital and SpaceX. Both companies are recovering from accidents.

SpaceX is scheduled to resume flying to the space station in January, following an explosion that destroyed a load of station supplies in June.

Orbital, which had experienced trouble with old Soviet-era engines, is refitting their crafts with new Russian-made rockets and will resume flights in the spring.

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Orbital and SpaceX already hold contracts to send cargo to the space station and are offering to extend those flights with existing technology. Boeing, Lockheed, and Sierra Nevada Corp, two of which have already been rejected, were offering new vehicles to NASA.

The January 30 date is the third postponement in the deciding the winners of the competition.

This report includes material from Reuters.