Devon Island Expedition

Devon Island Expedition
This blog features educational updates on my Devon Island Expedition of July 14-20, 2007. Other sites:,

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?

Leroy Chiao

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.

1 comment:

John Benac said...

if you subscribe to the philosophy: "I'll believe it when I see it" then you might believe a little in SpaceX. They have serious hardware making the rounds on the test stand in Texas, the launch pad at Kwaj, and the shops in SoCal.

I believe that Elon Musk can make things happen.

NASA's commitment is a bit grayer. With recent comments from Griffin about his lack of confidence in crewed COTS it makes one wonder.

If SpaceX is a viable business, it doesn't matter as much how serious NASA is about COTS. Their success independent of NASA will benefit NASA.