- Commercial Orbital Transportation Services
Commercial Crew and Cargo
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
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. NASA has suggested that "Commercial services to ISS will be necessary through at least 2015."
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 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
On August 18, 2006, NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) announced that SpaceX and RpK won Phase I of the COTS program. 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.
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, freeing up $175 million from the COTS budget to be awarded to another company or companies.
By June 18, 2007, NASA had signed separate non-reimbursable Space Act Agreements with four firms. 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. 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.
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. Several sources have since suggested that Boeing and not Andrews is a final contestant.
On February 19, 2008, the second round selection was made to Orbital Sciences Corporation, for the Cygnus spacecraft. 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.
- 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.
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. NASA announced the awarding of contracts to both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation in a press conference on December 23, 2008. The contracts include a minimum of 12 missions for SpaceX and 8 missions for Orbital Sciences. PlanetSpace submitted a protest to the Government Accountability Office after receiving a NASA debriefing on the outcome of the award. On April 22, 2009 GAO publicly released its decision to deny the protest.
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. 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. 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.
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- NASA - Commercial Partners Are Making Progress, but Face Aggressive Schedules to Demonstrate Critical Space Station Cargo Transport Capabilities (U.S. GAO, June, 2009)
- COTS - Commercial Orbital Transportation Services
- The COTS Enigma
- Private ventures vie to service space station (MSNBC, March 20, 2006)
- Advent Going for COTS - Dispatches from the Final Frontier, March 17, 2006
- Venturer Space COTS Proposal: The S-550 - Selenian Boondocks, March 17, 2006
- Venturer Aerospace pursues NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract - March 15, 2006
- ISS supply competitors break cover - Flight International, March 14, 2006
- SpaceX raises its sights by Alan Boyle, Cosmic Log, March 9, 2006
- Finishing the space station: an essential part of the Vision by Taylor Dinerman, The Space Review, March 6, 2006
- Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Demonstrations - NASA procurement site
- The importance of Alternate Access
- NASA changes focus of ISS Cargo Delivery Plans by Keith Cowing, NASA Watch October 7, 2003
- ISS COTS History A review of the COTS program
- COTS 1.5 Roundup Overview on the second COTS round, January 7, 2008
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