Commercial Orbital Transportation Services

Commercial Orbital Transportation Services
Commercial Crew and Cargov · Commercial Cargo Development
2006 - 2011
Commercial Space Transportation Capabilities 2007 - 2010
Commercial Crew Development (phase 1) 2010 - 2011
Commercial Resupply Services (cargo) 2011 - 2015
Commercial Crew Development (phase 2) 2011 - 2012

NASA's COTS program
Private spaceflight companies
Logo used for the COTS program

Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) is a NASA program to coordinate the delivery of crew and cargo to the International Space Station by private companies. The program was announced on January 18, 2006.[1] NASA has suggested that "Commercial services to ISS will be necessary through at least 2015."[2]

COTS must be distinguished from the related Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. COTS relates to the development of the vehicles, CRS to the actual deliveries. COTS involves a number of Space Act Agreements, with NASA providing milestone-based payments. COTS does not involve binding contracts. CRS on the other hand does involve legally binding contracts, which means the suppliers would be liable if they failed to perform. Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) is a related program, aimed specifically at developing crew rotation services. It is similar to COTS-D. All three programs are managed by NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO).

NASA signed agreements with Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in 2006, but later terminated the agreement with RpK due to insufficient private funding. NASA awarded another round of contracts for cargo delivery to the International Space Station in December 2008, to Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to utilize their COTS cargo vehicles.



Instead of flying payloads to the International Space Station (ISS) on government-operated vehicles, NASA would spend $500 million (less than the cost of a single Space Shuttle flight) through 2010 to finance the demonstration of orbital transportation services from commercial providers. Unlike any previous NASA project, the proposed spacecraft are intended to be owned and financed primarily by the companies themselves and will be designed to serve both U.S. government agencies and commercial customers. NASA will contract for missions as its needs become clear.

This is more challenging than existent commercial space transportation because it requires precision orbit insertion, rendezvous and possibly docking with another spacecraft. The private spaceflight vendors[3] are competing for four specific service areas:

  • Capability level A: External unpressurized cargo delivery and disposal
  • Capability level B: Internal pressurized cargo delivery and disposal
  • Capability level C: Internal pressurized cargo delivery, return and recovery
  • Capability level D: Crew Transportation.

Program rationale

NASA explored a program for ISS services in the mid 1990s entitled "Alt Access" for Alternate Access. While NASA funded Alt Access no further than preliminary studies, this program convinced numerous entrepreneurs that ISS could emerge as a significant market opportunity.

After years of keeping orbital transport for human spaceflight in-house, NASA concluded that firms in a free market could develop and operate such a system more efficiently and affordably than a government bureaucracy.[4] The then NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin stated that without affordable Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), the agency will not have enough funds remaining to achieve the objectives of the Vision for Space Exploration.[4] In November 2005, Dr. Griffin articulated that:

With the advent of the ISS, there will exist for the first time a strong, identifiable market for "routine" transportation service to and from LEO, and that this will be only the first step in what will be a huge opportunity for truly commercial space enterprise. We believe that when we engage the engine of competition, these services will be provided in a more cost-effective fashion than when the government has to do it.[5]

Furthermore, if such services were unavailable by the end of 2010, NASA would be forced to purchase orbital transportation services on foreign spacecraft such as the Russian Federal Space Agency's Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle, or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's H-II Transfer Vehicle since NASA's own Crew Exploration Vehicle may not be ready until 2014. NASA asserts that once COTS is operational, it will no longer procure Russian cargo delivery services.[6]

NASA anticipates that COTS services to ISS will be necessary through at least 2015. NASA projects at most a half-dozen COTS flights a year that would transport 10 tonnes annually.[6] The NASA Administrator has suggested that space transportation services procurement may be expanded to orbital fuel depots and lunar surface deliveries should the first phase of COTS prove successful.[7]


First round

In May 2006, NASA selected six semifinalist proposals for further evaluation.[8][unreliable source?]

On August 18, 2006, NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) announced that SpaceX and RpK won Phase I of the COTS program.[9] NASA planned to engage winners in funded Space Act agreements through 2010.

On November 8, 2006 RpK and ATK announced that ATK would become the lead contractor for the K-1.[10]

NASA terminated the COTS agreement with RpK in September 2007 after NASA warned RpK that it had failed to raise sufficient private funding by the July 31, 2007 deadline,[11][12] freeing up $175 million from the COTS budget to be awarded to another company or companies.

Second round

By June 18, 2007, NASA had signed separate non-reimbursable Space Act Agreements with four firms.[13] These agreements included no financial support, however NASA agreed to share information to help the companies to develop their proposed vehicles.

On October 22, 2007, NASA solicited proposals for the $175 million in unawarded first round funds.[14] Some of the new contenders who entered before the deadline in November 2007 for the funding were Spacehab, t/Space, Andrews Space, PlanetSpace and SpaceDev.[15]

In January 2008 industry sources claimed that the field had been downselected to four; Spacehab, Andrews Space, PlanetSpace and Orbital Sciences, with the announcement date set to February 7.[16] Several sources have since suggested that Boeing and not Andrews is a final contestant.[17]

On February 19, 2008, the second round selection was made to Orbital Sciences Corporation, for the Cygnus spacecraft.[18] NASA's selection statement showed that Orbital beat Boeing on expected lower costs and the added benefit of a new medium lift launcher Taurus II with Andrews, PlanetSpace and Spacehab being eliminated on funding concerns.[19]


  • Rocketplane Kistler — originally awarded $207 million; only $32.1 million disbursed before NASA termination in October 2007.
  • SpaceX — awarded $278 million; competing for additional funds.
  • Orbital Sciences Corporation — awarded $170 million in the second round in February 2008.


More than twenty organizations submitted COTS proposals in March 2006 of which twenty were publicly disclosed.[20] NASA received new COTS proposals from at least seven firms by November 21, 2007.[21]

Company Spacecraft Launch vehicle Partner First
Orbital Sciences[22] Cygnus[18] Taurus II [18] ? No Yes Yes
SpaceX Dragon Falcon 9 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Andrews Space[23] Andrews Cargo Module Hercules Alliant Techsystems, MDA Yes Yes Yes No
Boeing Automated Transfer Vehicle Delta IV Arianespace, EADS Astrium ? No Yes No
PlanetSpace[24][25] Orbital Transfer Vehicle[26] Athena III[27] Alliant Techsystems, Lockheed Martin No No Yes No
SpaceHab[28][29] ARCTUS Atlas V Lockheed Martin Yes Yes Yes No
Rocketplane Kistler K-1 K-1 Orbital Sciences[30] Yes Yes No No
Venturer Aerospace S-550 Space capsule Falcon 9 SpaceX Yes No No No
SpaceDev[31][32] Dream Chaser Atlas V Lockheed Martin Yes Yes ? No
t/Space[33][34] Crew Transfer Vehicle QuickReach AirLaunch Yes Yes ? No
Constellation Services International[35] Progress Soyuz RKK Energia ? No ? No
Lockheed Martin ATV, H-II Transfer Vehicle Atlas V EADS Astrium, JAXA ? No ? No
PanAero Space Van Space Van ? No ? No
Space Systems/Loral Space Tug Aquarius Constellation Services International[36] ? No ? No
Advent Launch Services ? ? ? No ? No
Exploration Partners ? ? ? No ? No
Odyssey Space Research ? ? ? No ? No
Thortek Laboratories ? ? ? No ? No
Triton Systems ? ? ? No ? No

Commercial Resupply Services

On December 22, 2008, NASA stated they would discuss the contract selection to provide commercial cargo resupply services for the International Space Station.[37] NASA announced the awarding of contracts to both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation in a press conference on December 23, 2008.[38] The contracts include a minimum of 12 missions for SpaceX and 8 missions for Orbital Sciences.[39] PlanetSpace submitted a protest to the Government Accountability Office after receiving a NASA debriefing on the outcome of the award.[40] On April 22, 2009 GAO publicly released its decision to deny the protest.[41]

Cygnus will launch with the Taurus II rocket from Launch Pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Wallops Island, Virginia. Its first launch is scheduled for March 2011.[42][43] Dragon will launch with the Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. It began test launches in 2010.

SpaceX launched their first Falcon 9 rocket and a mock-up Dragon capsule successfully on June 4, 2010. The first resupply demonstration flight, Dragon C1, took place on 8 December 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 TDRSS narrow-band satellite communication system which is used in conjunction with all manned spaceflight to the International Space Station. On 15 August 2011 SpaceX announced NASA had agreed to allow the combination of the COTS Demo 2 and 3 missions into a single mission with a launch date of 30 November 2011.[44][45] If all goes according to plan the Dragon spacecraft will berth with the ISS on 9 December 2011. SpaceX expects to be paid for completing all demonstration flights if it successfully completes the mission objectives of COTS Demo 3 during the second demo mission.[46]

See also


  1. ^ "NASA Seeks Proposals for Crew and Cargo Transportation to Orbit" (Press release). NASA. 2006-01-18. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  2. ^ Space Operations Mission Directorate (2006-08-30). "Human Space Flight Transition Plan". NASA. 
  3. ^ "COTS Vendors" (xls). NASA Johnson Space Center. Archived from the original on 2006-09-29. 
  4. ^ a b "X Prize Comments by Mike Griffin". NASA. 2006-10-20. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  5. ^ Griffin, Michael; Valin Thorn (2007-01-11). "Commercial Crew & Cargo Program Overview" (PDF). 45th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting. Reno, Nevada: NASA. p. 2. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  6. ^ a b Gerstenmaier, William (2007-05-18). "Need for Commercial Cargo to ISS". FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Council. Washington, D.C.: FAA. p. 2. Retrieved 2007-06-13. 
  7. ^ "Commercial Space Development – What’s the Next?". NASA, November 15, 2007.
  8. ^ Belfiore, Michael (May 9, 2006). "NASA makes first round of cuts for COTS". Dispatches from the Final Frontier. Archived from the original on 2006-06-14. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  9. ^ "NASA Selects Crew and Cargo Transportation to Orbit Partners" (Press release). NASA. 2006-08-18. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  10. ^ "Rocketplane Kistler and ATK Announce Agreement for K-1 Launch Vehicle and COTS Program" (Press release). ATK. 2006-11-08. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  11. ^ "RpK's COTS Contract Terminated". Aviation Week. 2007-09-10.'s%20COTS%20Contract%20Terminated%20&channel=space. Retrieved 2007-09-10. 
  12. ^ NASA Cuts Funds for Private Space Venture
  13. ^ "NASA Signs Space Act Agreements with Three More Firms". Space News. 2007-06-19. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  14. ^ "NASA Reopens COTS Bidding". Aviation Week. 2007-10-19. Retrieved 2007-10-28. 
  15. ^ "COTS 1.5 Roundup". Space Fellowship. 2008-01-07. Retrieved 2008-01-12. 
  16. ^ "NASA Picks Finalists for Space Station Resupply Demonstrations". Imaginova/ 2008-01-08. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  17. ^ "COTS I ReAward Final Cut Poll". 2008-02-05. 
  18. ^ a b c - Orbital beat a dozen competitors to win NASA COTS contract
  19. ^ "COTS Selection Statement - Feb, 08". 2008-04-24. 
  20. ^ "Private ventures vie to service space station". MSNBC. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  21. ^ "Space Systems/Loral Proposes Bus for NASA's Cargo Needs" (Press release). Space News. 2007-12-10. Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  22. ^ "Orbital and Rocketplane Kistler Announce Strategic Relationship" (Press release). Rocketplane Limited, Inc.. 2006-07-24. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  23. ^ "Andrews Space Reveals Cargo Vehicle Design Work" (Press release). Andrews Space, Inc.. 2007-12-12. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  24. ^ "NASA signs Space Act Agreement with Planetspace" (PDF) (Press release). PlanetSpace. 2007-02-01. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  25. ^ "PLANETSPACE, Lockheed Martin and ATK team up to bid on NASA COTS" (PDF) (Press release). PlanetSpace. 2007-11-21. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  26. ^ "Strange space bedfellows". MSNBC. 
  27. ^ Bergin, Chris (2008-01-21). "ATK's new vehicle to provide multi-access options". 
  28. ^ "Spacehab Finalist as NASA’s Commercial Space Station Logistics Supplier" (Press release). SPACEHAB, Inc.. 2006-05-10. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  29. ^ "SPACEHAB RESPONDS TO NASA RFP SEEKING COMMERCIAL ISS RESUPPLY MEANS" (Press release). SPACEHAB, Inc.. 2007-11-29. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  30. ^ "Orbital To Pull Out of Rocketplane Kistler's COTS Team" (Press release). Space News. 2006-09-25. Retrieved 2007-12-17. 
  31. ^ "SpaceDev Selected as a Finalist in NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Solicitation" (Press release). SpaceDev, Inc.. 2006-05-15. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  32. ^ "SPACEDEV SIGNS SPACE ACT AGREEMENT WITH NASA FOR DEVELOPMENT OF COMMERCIAL ACCESS TO SPACE" (Press release). SpaceDev. 2007-06-18. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  33. ^ "NASA signs agreement with t/Space" (Press release). t/Space. 2007-02-01. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  34. ^ "t/Space enters COTS second round" (Press release). t/Space. 2007-11-29. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  35. ^ "NASA Signs Agreement with CSI" (PDF) (Press release). Constellation Services International, Inc.. 2007-06-18. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  37. ^ "NASA to Announce Space Station Resupply Services Contract". NASA HQ. 2008-12-22. 
  38. ^ "NASA Awards Space Station Commercial Resupply Services Contracts". NASA, December 23, 2008.
  39. ^ Morring, Jr., Frank. "Space Station Resupply Contracts Awarded". Aviation Week, December 24, 2008.
  40. ^ Chris Bergin (January 15, 2009). "Planetspace officially protest NASA’s CRS selection". 
  41. ^ "B-401016; B-401016.2, PlanetSpace, Inc., April 22, 2009". GAO. April 22, 2009. 
  42. ^ Beneski, Baron (January 2010). "TAURUS II — Rocketing Ahead". SatMagazine. 
  43. ^ Bergin, Chris (February 19, 2008). "Orbital beat a dozen competitors to win NASA COTS contract". 
  44. ^ "SpaceX 2011 Update Page". SpaceX. 15 August 2011. Retrieved Nov. 2011.
  45. ^ "SpaceX plans November test flight to space station". AFP. 15 August 2011.  Retrieved Nov. 2011.
  46. ^ "SpaceX Seeks To Drop a Dragon Flight from COTS Plan". June 11, 2010. 

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