Posted by: spacewritinguy | November 26, 2008

Review of the Ares V Draft Request for Proposal (RFP)

I am reviewing the contract strictly from the point of view of a former employee of a defense contractor. Any comments or opinions in this review, as noted in my usual blog disclaimer, are strictly my own, and do not reflect the opinions of NASA, the Ares Projects, or any company likely to bid on the Ares V project. My approach to the draft RFP for Ares V is based on my previous employment as a former business development proposal writer. Any errors of interpretation are strictly my own, I just thought this might make for an interesting exercise.

The RFP may be found at

Again, being a former proposal writer, I was most concerned with the sections of the RFP that affected the writing of a proposal: specifically, the content and format of the document I was expected to produce.

A lot of the prefatory material was not my problem: things like specific government regulations governing protests or the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) were not my business, though my previous employer found it amusing when I started taking it upon myself to understand such: “Never mind that, buddy. We’ve got a legal department for that.” Okay, fair enough. I will concentrate instead on Section C – Description/Specifications/Statement of Work, Section L Instructions, Condtions and Notices to Offerors or Respondents, and Section M – Evaluation Factors for Award.

Section C – Description/Specifications/Statement of Work

Oddly enough, this section is empty. What, then, is the point of putting out the draft?

Section L Instructions, Condtions and Notices to Offerors or Respondents

Section L.2: They did note that there will be a bidders’ conference at Marshall Space Flight Center December 3 in Morris Auditorium. (Wear a tie.)

Section L.3: “The Government contemplates award of a Firm Fixed Price (FFP) contract for Ares V Phase I, Requirements and Concept Development, resulting from this solicitation.”

This is interesting. An FFP contract means that NASA will probably own the copyright to Ares V design, and the contracting company would be a manufacturer rather than an originator of the design, rather like the Ares I upper stage contract. This makes sense, as NASA/Ares is trying to bring more expertise in-house.

Section L.7: The work package is divided into five parts:

  1. [Payload] Shroud
  2. Earth Departure Stage
  3. Core [Stage]
  4. Avionics
  5. First Stage

L.7.c: “Offerors shall modify the model contracts (Volume IV per Section L.8) to reflect the Work Package(s) the offerors are proposing on. For example, if the Offeror is proposing on the Shroud effort only then SOW [Statment of Work] sections 5,6,7, and 8 shall be annotated as reserved in the proposed model contract.”

Again, interesting. This means NASA is willing to break up the contract and vehicle by contractor. This has the potential to broaden the number of participants, as a company capable of building a large, composite payload shroud would be unable to bid on a propulsion system. It could also mean less teaming, as ATK, the makers of the Shuttle-derived solid rocket booster for Ares 1, could bid on their own to assure a win, or might only team up with one company (Lockheed, Boeing). There really isn’t anyone else who can do what ATK does, and most of NASA’s Ares V images still anticipate using the SRB.

L.8 Proposal Page Limitations.

Ah, my favorite section. This is what determined what sort of hell I was in for, come proposal-writing time.

Volume I, Mission Suitability – Thirty (30) pages excluding the following: Project Manager Resume per format provided in Form A.

Volume II, Price – No Limit.

Volume III, Past Performance – Seven (7) pages excluding the following: The Past Performance Interview / Questionnaire (Form B) as submitted by past performance references.

Volume IV, Completed RFP and Signed SF33 – No Limit

I always love this bit:

A page is defined as one side of a sheet, 8 1/2″ x 11″, with at least 1-inch margins on all sides, using not smaller than 12 point “Times New Roman” font.  The font size for text within charts and graphs shall be proportional to the chart or graph, but not smaller than 8 point “Times New Roman” font.  However, if narrative style text is included in figures and tables the font shall be 12 point.  Foldouts count as an equivalent number of 8 1/2″ x 11″ pages.  The metric standard format most closely approximating the described standard 8 1/2″ x 11″ size may also be used.

Yes, government proposals really ARE that detailed.

L.10 Small Business, Small Disadvantaged Business, Woman-Owned Small Business, Historically Underutilized Business (HUBZone), Veteran-Owned Small Business, and Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concerns Participation in Subcontract Arrangements and Subcontracting Goal

A small business subcontracting goal equivalent to 5.0% of the total contract value has been established for this procurement.  Of the 5.0% small business subcontracting goal established, the following individual goals have been established:

2.0% Small Disadvantaged Business

1.0% Woman-Owned Small Business

0.5% Historically Underutilized Business (HUBZone)

0.5% Veteran-Owned Small Business

0.5% Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business


These goal numbers are pretty low, compared to some DoD contracts, but then there aren’t that many SDBs, WOSBs, etc., in the aerospace business anymore. They’ve all been bought or “eaten.”

L.12 Due Date for Receipt of Proposal


The due date and time for receipt of proposals (all volumes) will be established in the final RFP which is scheduled for release on January 5, 2009.  Current planning is for proposals to be submitted on February 9, 2009.

Given the length of the technical proposal requested (Volume I, 30 pages), that’s probably a reasonable amount of time. Mind you, that overlaps the holidays, which makes proposal writing OH so fun if one has delusions of having a life. But when you’re talking about a contract potentially worth a billion or two, sacrifices must be made, eh?

Proposals hand carried to MSFC on the date due, shall be delivered to Building 4203, Basement Elevator Lobby, by 1:00 p.m., Central Time.  Offerors shall call 256-544-3196 for a representative to accept their proposal.  A telephone is available in the basement lobby.

Many a proposal has been lost because someone was unable to get on base on time. Sad, but true.

L.13 Request for Information or Solicitation Planning Purpose

(a)  The Government does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this solicitation or to otherwise pay for the information solicited except as an allowable cost under other contracts as provided in subsection 31.205-18, Bid and proposal costs, of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.


(b)  Although “proposal” and “Offeror” are used in this draft Request for Proposal, your response will be treated as information only.  It shall not be used as a proposal.


Again, the point of a draft RFP is to solicit comments from the potential bidders. These comments can take the form of clarifying certain clauses (e.g., “Do you REALLY expect us to bid this as an FFP, or is this just a placeholder?”), offering suggestions for better wording, or asking specific technical questions in such a way as to allow an offeror’s approach a foot in the door without revealing the specific details of a technical solution. Questions, again, are worded very carefully because questions and answers are posted in the clear to all potential bidders. No need to give away one’s strategy in the draft phase, right?

L.16 Instructions for Proposal Preparation


This acquisition is a full and open competition. 

This, too, is interesting. It means that NASA will take all comers on this RFP, including small businesses and large businesses. If a small business comes up with a cost-effective, technically feasible solution to some part of this solicitiation (say, the payload shroud only), then NASA could award it to them.

The Government intends to make multiple awards per work package as a result of this solicitation.

My, my. It looks like NASA expects multiple bidders and multiple awards. This might make things less lucrative and more chaotic for the contractors, but on the government side, they get the advantage of lower prices through competitive bidding and the option of shifting from one contractor to another if one displeases them.

The Contracting Officer (CO) for this RFP, at present, is:

Name:        Joseph Eversole


Address:     NASA, George C. Marshall Space Flight Center

                  Attention:  PS43/ Joseph Eversole

                  Marshall Space Flight Center, AL  35812


Each Offeror is cautioned to submit their best, most realistic and competitive proposal initially.  An Offeror not submitting their best, most realistic and competitive proposal initially could face non-selection in the event the Government makes an award from the initial proposals.  An Offeror could also be excluded from the competitive range, price and other factors considered, if other than their best, most realistic and competitive proposal is submitted.

If I’m reading this correctly, NASA expects a BAFO (Best and Final Offer) up front, meaning they’re not interested in a lot of haggling on the tail end of things. Can’t say that I blame them. There have been a lot of high-profile protests of government contracts in the last 5 years.

(B)       Original and 12 copies of Volumes I and III, original and 3 copies of Volume II, an original and one copy of Volume IV plus 3 signed originals of the SF33s shall be submitted for each proposal. 

For all the “reduced paperwork” and “green” initiatives that our government sponsors, they are the most relentless tree slaughterers on the planet when it comes to receiving proposals.

(3)  The Offeror shall prepare Volume I – Mission Suitability, in accordance with the outline provided below. 


(Note:  The outline is provided for use in organizing your proposal only and should not be construed as an indication of the order of importance or relative weighting within the individual mission suitability subfactors as there are no discrete point values attached to any of the sub-sections.)


Subfactor A:               Management Approach


                     MA1                Key personnel (Project Manager)

                        MA2                Organizational expertise

                     MA3                Communications

                     MA4                Risk management relative to management approach



Subfactor B:               Technical Approach


                     TA1                 Approach to develop and deliver products in SOW

                     TA2                 Innovation of proposed approach

                     TA3                 Proposed approach for assuring technical quality


                                 TA4                 Capability for designing, developing and manufacturing large scale launch vehicles

                                 TA5                 Risk management relative to technical approach



Subfactor C:               Small and Small Disadvantaged Business Approach


                                 SB1                 Small Business Utilization and mentoring

                                 SB2                 Risk management relative to Small and Small Disadvantaged Business Approach


The good news about this RFP is that it does not (yet) specify HOW the contractor is supposed to do their work. Of course it is still NASA’s call when it comes to deciding WHAT to build.


For preparation of pricing for the RFP, the following budget targets are provided for each award per Work Package:


Table II.1 Budgeted Values


Fiscal Year


 Work Package







$ per Contract         1. Shroud







$ per Contract

2. EDS







$ per Contract

3. Core Stage







$ per Contract

4. Avionics







$ per Contract

5. First Stage







Note:  In the event the Government awards fewer or more than two awards per work package, the budgeted value will remain the same as stated in Table II.1.


Really, now? This would be something that I would question. That is not a lot of money, given the scope of the Ares V vehicle.

The Offeror shall provide the method and calculations for obtaining the all inclusive labor rates.  Rates shall be in real year dollars and apply escalation rates as defined in Table II.2.


Table II.2 Labor Escalation Rates



FY 10


FY 12

Labor Escalation Rate




This might not matter to the contractor so much as its employees. It sets the effective rate at which you can expect to receive a raise if you’re working under this contract.

Section M – Evaluation Factors for Award.

M.3 Evaluation Factors for Award:

A Source Evaluation Board (SEB), appointed by the Associate Administrator (AA), ESMD, will evaluate the offers submitted for this Request for Proposal (RFP).”

One often knows little to nothing about who is on the SEB. However, knowing such people is often of little value, as they’re usually incommunicado once the bidding process begins anyway.

d)  SEB Membership


      Fred Bickley/Voting Member (Chair)

      Joseph Eversole/Voting Member

Steve Patterson/Voting Member

Keith Layne/Voting Member

Gerry Sadler/Voting Member

Kim Ibrahim/Voting Member

…Unless, of course, they actually post the names….

The total weighting for Mission Suitability shall be 1,000 points.


1)      The subfactors to be used in evaluating Mission Suitability and their corresponding weights are listed below:


Management Approach (MA)

 375 points

Technical Approach (TA)

 575 points

Small and Small Disadvantaged Business Approach (SB)

   50 points


1000 points

The criteria are weighted much as I would have expected and hoped: technical competence is rated highest, followed closely by management, with SB approach a distant third.

For evaluation purposes, the total evaluated price, at the work package level, will be the total for the base year and all option years.  Unrealistic or unreasonable prices and inconsistencies between the Mission Suitability Volume and the Price Factor Volume will be assessed as a proposal risk and will be assessed in the level of confidence the SEB assigns to the proposal. 


Offers that do not include all requested information are cautioned that this may indicate a lack of understanding of the SOW and contract requirements.

In other words, they want the BAFO, the whole BAFO, and nothing but the BAFO. No padding things later on in the process.

The SEB will assess its level of confidence (High, Medium, or Low, as shown below) in the Offeror’s ability to successfully perform the contract at the proposed price.  This assessment will be reported to the SSA.



The Government has a very high level of confidence that the Offeror can perform successfully at or below the proposed price.


The Government has a reasonable level of confidence that the Offeror can perform successfully at or below the proposed price.


The Government has at best a marginal level of confidence that the Offeror can perform successfully at or below the proposed price.




That’s about all I have to say about that. Of course the most important parts of Attachment J-1, Statements of Work, are all posted in the NASA Windchill system, which is internal and secured, so I’ll be seeing none of that. Pity. It’d be interesting to see how deep into the weeds NASA has gotten already. Some of the studies they expect the contractor to perform are listed in the section open to the public. For example, the SOW states that the contractor must provide the following items:


Table 4.2A Payload Shroud Element Trades and Analyses – Base Period






Payload Operational Concepts

Identify payload servicing and integration concepts including Altair and other scientific payloads


One Dimensional Beam Model

Develop a One dimensional beam model for structural loads analysis


Payload Acoustic Levels

Perform a sensitivity analysis of acoustic blankets relative to performance over a range of maximum internal acoustic levels from lift off through separation.  Trade payload acoustic level accommodation against acoustic blanket masses and thicknesses.


Ignition Over Pressure (IOP) and Lift Off Acoustics Levels

Trade acceptable IOP levels and lift off acoustics based on water suppression, ground system deflection vs. on board dampening approaches


Joint Assessment

Assess the use of single piece vs. jointed sections for 2, 3, and 4 petal Shroud Element configurations


Structural Concept Trade

Evaluate alternative structural concepts and address panel limits


Use of TPS vs. Higher Temperature Composite Materials (Composite Material Assessment)

Perform a composite resin-fiber material/curing process sensitivity analysis from technology availability and cost perspective over the range of operating temperatures of the Shroud Element.  Trade the use of higher temperature composites in lieu of TPS


Composite Material Survivability Assessment

Assess the ability of potential composite core structures to withstand (maintain properties) acoustic levels from lift off through separation


Applicability of Past Payload  Fairing/Shroud Element Trades and Analyses

Identify the potential applicability of past payload fairing/Shroud Element trades and analyses, lessons learned, analysis tools used


Identification Of First Order Design Parameters

Identification of first order design parameters for the Payload Shroud Element and perform a sensitivity analysis on these parameters


Much of the rest of the public-viewable SOW talks about reports and trade studies that the contractor must provide in the course of doing Ares V business. Interesting. There appears to be quite a bit of engineering services included in this contract, which means any bidders must have or partner with organizations with considerable engineering study/service experience. There is also this:


During the Option II period of performance the Contractor shall mature their concept to exceed the POD [Point of Departure] requirements in Table 8.2 and satisfy those in Table 8.3.  The concept shall address the following items:


  • Nozzle geometry and material, propellant formulation
  • Structural material concepts
  • TVC architecture and capability
  • Physical characteristics
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Assembly and operations
  • Test philosophy for stage and major subsystems
  • Performance description (including thrust trace) to meet or exceed performance requirements. 
  • Description of hazards and evaluation of critical hazard elimination with respect to the POD
  • Description of the Contractor’s capabilities and facilities for design, test, manufacturing, and integration.
  • Top level schedule
  • Recurring and nonrecurring cost summary, including confidence.

Ah! It helps if one can find Tables 8.2 and 8.3…


Table 8.2 Current Ares V POD Requirements


ARES V Requirements








Payload Minimum at 130 nmi (240.8 km) Altitude





Maximum g





Maximum q






Table 8.3 First Stage Element Physical Constraints


First Stage Element Physical Constraints






Number of Boosters



Booster Length – Nozzle exit to Booster top

170-185 (ft)

51.8-56.4 (m)

Motor Case & Fwd Structures Max Outer Diameter

12.3 (ft)

3.8 (m)

Aft Skirt Max Diameter

17.5 (ft)

5.3 (m)


Dude, that’s a big rocket!

The remaining attachment deals with DRDs (Data Requirements Documents), standards contractors need to comply with when providing engineering/technical data reports to NASA over the course of the contract.

And yes, this sort of analysis is what I got paid to do. And people wonder why I left the defense business?


  1. I will note on the money issue (which does seem a little low) that the contract years specified don’t enter into the actual production phase of the vehicle, so those are pretty much entirely engineering design costs, not building hardware.

  2. An owner usually publishes the RFP or RFQ during the design phase of the project, and includes specifications of what the owner wants. Fun

  3. Ah! Good point–I didn’t catch that the first time I read it. Darn beer…

  4. […] welcome. If you’d like to know why I think myself qualified to do this sort of review, see my review of the Ares V RFP awhile […]

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