The Draft Statement of Work for the CEV was issued by NASA on December 9, 2004, and slightly more than one month later, on January 21, 2005, NASA issued a Draft Request For Proposal. The Final RFP was issued on March 1, 2005, with the potential bidders being asked to answer by May 2, 2005.
NASA had planned to have a suborbital or an Earth orbit fly-off called Flight Application of Spacecraft Technologies (FAST) between two teams' CEV designs before September 1, 2008. However, in order to permit an earlier date for the start of CEV operations, Administrator Griffin had indicated that NASA would select one contractor for the CEV in 2006. From his perspective, this would both help eliminate the currently planned four-year gap between the retirement of the Shuttle in 2010 and the first manned flight of the CEV in 2014 (by allowing the CEV to fly earlier), and save over $1 billion for use in CEV development.
On June 13, 2005, NASA announced the selection of two consortia, Lockheed Martin Corp. and the team of Northrop Grumman Corp. and The Boeing Co. for further CEV development work. Each team had received a US$28 million contract to come up with a complete design for the CEV and its launch vehicle until August 2006, when NASA would award one of them the task of building the CEV. The teams would also have to develop a plan for their CEV to take part in the assembly of a lunar expedition, either with an Earth orbit rendezvous, a lunar orbit rendezvous, or with a direct ascent. The two teams were composed of:
Northrop Grumman associated with Boeing as subcontractor for the Spiral One, Alenia Spazio, ARES Corporation, Draper Laboratory and United Space Alliance
Lockheed Martin associated with EADS SPACE Transportation, United Space Alliance, Aerojet, Honeywell, Orbital Sciences, Hamilton Sundstrand, and Wyle Laboratories (awarded the contract August 31, 2006).
Another announced team was t/Space, a consortium including such groups as Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites, Elon Musk's SpaceX, and Red Whittaker of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute. Some news reports in mid-March 2005, stemming from an interview with New Scientist, had reported that t/Space intended to withdraw from the competition, citing a high paperwork burden; however, no announcement of a withdrawal had been made by t/Space. NASA has not gone public about who did finally submit a bid. Therefore, either t/Space did not submit a bid, or its bid was not selected by NASA.
Each contractor-led team included subcontractors that provided the lunar expedition astronauts with equipment, life support, rocket engines, and onboard navigation systems. The planned orbital or suborbital fly-offs under FAST would have seen the competition of a CEV built by each team, or of a technology demonstrator incorporating CEV technologies. Under FAST, NASA would have chosen the winner to build the final CEV after actual demonstration of this hardware. Fly-offs are often used by the U.S. Air Force to select military aircraft; NASA has never used this approach in awarding contracts. However, as Administrator Griffin had indicated he would abandon the FAST approach, NASA pursued the more traditional approach of selecting a vehicle based on the contractors' proposals.
On August 31, 2006, NASA announced that the contract to design and develop the Orion was awarded to Lockheed Martin Corp. According to Bloomberg News, five analysts it surveyed prior to the award announcement tipped the Northrop team to win. Marco Caceres, a space industry analyst with Teal Group, had projected that Lockheed would lose, partly because of Lockheed Martin's earlier failure on the $912 million X-33 shuttle replacement program; after the contract award he suggested that Lockheed Martin's work on the X-33 gave it more recent research and development experience in propulsion and materials, which