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Space plane maker Sierra Nevada undercut Boeing by $900 million, still lost NASA contract

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Posted at 9:23 PM, Sep 26, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-26 23:32:24-04

Hit the air brakes.

A little over a week after NASA announced its replacements for the the space shuttle, one of the companies left out in the cold has filed a lawsuit with the Government Accountability Office.

Sierra Nevada Corporation, which is building the Dream Chaser spacecraft, said Friday that it lost its bid to ferry astronauts despite undercutting rival Boeing by $900 million – a 20 percent discount.

The Dream Chaser received similar performance scores as the Boeing spacecraft, the company said in a statement. It cited "serious questions and inconsistencies" in the selection process.

"The company believes that, in this time of critical budget limits, it is more important than ever to deliver the best value to the American public," the Nevada-based company said.

NASA had announced the next space vehicles to transport astronauts to the International Space Station on Sept. 16. SpaceX, owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk, was awarded $2.6 billion to build a manned version of its Dragon capsule. The Dragon currently runs cargo to the International Space Station for NASA.

Boeing received some controversy for being awarded more money – $4.2 billion – for a spaceship that has yet to be built, the CST-100. The requirements for the Boeing and SpaceX contracts are the same, NASA said.

Whichever companies are chosen, these will be the first American spacecraft capable of transporting humans since the space shuttle was retired in 2011. The first crew of four astronauts are expected to hitch a ride by 2017.

NASA is currently relying on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station, at a cost of $70 million per seat, CNN reports. For unmanned cargo transport, NASA contracted with private companies.

NASA and Lockheed Martin are building their own manned spacecraft, the larger Orion crew vehicle, for deep space missions, such as to an asteroid or Mars. The European Space Agency will build the Orion's service module.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on twitter @GavinStern or email him at gavin.stern@scripps.com.