Commercial Orbital Transportation Services
NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo
|Commercial Cargo Development||2006 - 2011|
|Commercial Space Transportation Capabilities||2007 - 2010|
|Commercial Crew Development (phase 1)||2010 - 2011|
|Commercial Crew Development (phase 2)||2011 - 2012|
|Commercial Crew integrated Capability (phase 3)
(base period milestones)
|2012 - 2014|
|Commercial Crew integrated Capability (phase 4)
(optional period milestones)
|2014 - 2017|
|Certification Products Contract (crew)||2012 - 2014|
|Certification Contract (crew)||2014 - 2017|
|Commercial Resupply Services (cargo)||2011 - 2016|
|ISS Crew Transportation Services (crew)||2017 -|
|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 SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) in 2006, but later terminated the agreement with RpK due to insufficient private funding. NASA then signed an agreement with Orbital Sciences in 2008. Independently, NASA awarded 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 (was not funded, but formed the basis of CCDev)
 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. 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. And on May 22nd 2012, Bill Gerstenmaier of NASA confirmed that they were no longer purchasing any cargo resupply services from Russia and now relied solely on the American CRS vehicles, the SpaceX Dragon and Orbital Sciences' Cygnus; with the exception of a few vehicle-specific payloads delivered on the European ATV and the Japanese HTV.
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.
 First round
On August 18, 2006, NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) announced that SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler (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.
 Second round
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 later suggested that Boeing and not Andrews was 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 contract worth $207 million; RpK received only $32.1 million before NASA terminated their contract for failure to complete milestones in October 2007.
- SpaceX — awarded contract worth $278 million; in 2011 additional milestones were added bringing the total contract value to $396 million.
On May 22, 2012 SpaceX COTS Demo Flight 2 completed the NASA and SpaceX Space Act Agreement. Falcon 9 #3 flew capsule Dragon C2+ to the International Space Station. After rendezvousing, berthing and unloading the capsule successfully reentered landing in the Pacific Ocean.
- Orbital Sciences Corporation — awarded contract worth $170 million in the second round in February 2008; in 2011 additional milestones were added bringing the total contract value to $288 million.
As of 22 April 2013[update] the Antares (rocket) made its maiden flight lifting a payload mass simulator to low Earth orbit (LEO) on April 21, 2013. Development of the Cygnus spacecraft continues.
 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.
 See also
- Space Shuttle successors
- Commercial off-the-shelf
- Commercial Crew Development
- Comparison of unmanned resupply spacecraft
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