Sunday, April 6, 2008
Do you believe in COTS? By COTS, I mean the commercial program competition that NASA has committed about $500M towards. The idea is to stimulate commercial outfits to develop an unmanned resupply system for the International Space Station. Sounds good, but let's take a short look.
Two competitors won big NASA COTS awards in late 2006. One of them consequently missed funding milestones and had their award taken away. This award has now been given to a third company. Inside conversations with NASA folks usually involve rolling of the eyes and comments such as "we've been told to believe in COTS." At least one company (not selected for an award) has publicly accused NASA of "not being serious" about it.
I think it is a good idea, but I must admit to being skeptical. NASA is going to make any commercial outfit go through the same safety, testing and review process that a government vehicle must pass. This process is not simple, quick nor inexpensive. How will a commercial company be able to do all of that and still expect to make a profit?
As a reference point, the French ATV recently successfully docked to ISS. It was many, many years in development and in the end, the published program cost was 1.3 billion euros, or about $1.9 B!
What do you think?
PS: The photo above is of Progress 17P as it approached to dock with ISS during Expedition 10. I snapped this photo of it at a range of about 50 meters.