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Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has established the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office at the Johnson Space Center as part of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. The objectives of the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project are to:

  • implement U.S. Space Exploration policy with an investment to stimulate commercial enterprises in space,
  • facilitate U.S. private industry demonstration of cargo and crew space transportation capabilities with the goal of achieving reliable, cost effective access to low-Earth orbit, and
  • create a market environment in which commercial space transportation services are available to Government and private sector customers.

On October 28, 2005 NASA/JSC announced plans to solicit proposals from industry for Earth to orbit space flight demonstrations of any combination of the following mission capabilities: Period 1 a) External unpressurized cargo delivery and disposal, b) Internal pressurized cargo delivery and disposal, c) Internal pressurized cargo delivery, return and recovery. Option Period 2 d) Crew Transportation. Period 1 demonstration(s) will culminate with a rendezvous and docking or berthing with the International Space Station and either disposal or reentry and recovery, depending on the selected mission. Typical missions could include delivery of approximately 1600 - 3000 Kg payload to a circular sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 675 Kilometers.

Proposals will also be solicited for mission capability d), crew transportation, but only as an option to Period 1 proposals for mission capability c) as listed above. The Period 2 demonstrations will consist of one or more crewed missions to the International Space Station. The option will be considered for execution only after the successful demonstration of Period 1 mission capability c). The objective of these space flight capability demonstrations is to stimulate commercial enterprises in space and lead to innovative, cost effective access to low-Earth orbit. It is anticipated that upon the successful demonstration of any one of the mission capabilities prior to 2010 timeframe, NASA may issue a request for proposals to competitively procure commercial orbital transportation services to resupply the International Space Station. NASA anticipated that these services will be needed through at least 2015. NASA intended to use its Space Act authority or other non-FAR authority to enter into funded agreements resulting from this announcement. One or more initial agreements were anticipated. Because a purpose of this investment is to facilitate commercial orbital transportation service capabilities for, in part, U.S. Government use, responders need to be aware that in making awards, NASA is constrained by statutory and U.S. space transportation policy requirements.

NASA anticipated releasing a draft announcement on or about November 22, 2005. The draft announcement briefing at NASA Johnson Space Center was tentatively planned for November 29, 2005. Comments on the draft were due on December 06, 2005. Final issuance of the announcement will be on or about December 20, 2005. Responses were due on January 27, 2006, and final agreements were planned to be executed in May 2006.

On December 21, 2005 NASA issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Venture Capitalist Consulting Services. The contractor shall provide consulting as a Venture Capitalist for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Demonstrations Team. The contractor shall support NASA in evaluating the business and management aspects of COTS participant's proposals. This required that the contractor co-locate with the COTS team in Houston, Texas in office space to be provided by NASA. The contractor would read business plans, assess them, and document findings, and assist NASA in assessing the business and management performance of selected COTS partners. This required that the contractor monitor business and management information received from partners and assess the information for trends that might indicate programmatic risk, and propose to NASA strategies for abating such risk. The contractor would attend periodic status briefings at partner locations as directed by NASA.

The January 2006 announcement solicited proposals for the initial development and demonstration phase of the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project. Under this project, NASA intends to enter into agreements with private industry to develop and demonstrate the vehicles, systems, and operations needed to resupply, return cargo from, and transport crew to and from a human space facility, with the International Space Station providing the representative requirements for such a facility.

Once demonstrated, industry will be able to provide these new services to non-NASA customers. NASA also plans to enter the next phase of the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project and purchase services from commercial providers to support the International Space Station. In the future, NASA intends to extend its use of commercial space services to other NASA needs, such as in-space fuel delivery to support human exploration missions beyond the space station.

COTS is envisioned to be executed in two phases:

  • Phase 1 - A period of development and demonstration by private industry, in coordination with NASA, of various space transportation capabilities to and from low-Earth orbit (LEO) determined to be most desirable for the Government and other customers.
  • Phase 2 - A potential competitive procurement of orbital transportation services to resupply the ISS with cargo and crew, if a capability is successfully demonstrated and the Government determines it is in its best interest.
The activities associated with the implementation of Phase 1, also referred to as COTS Demonstrations or COTS Demos, will be governed by this announcement and any resulting Space Act Agreement (SAA). NASA intended to use its Space Act authority to enter into at least one and preferably multiple funded agreements resulting from this announcement. The actual number of SAAs will be based upon the types of proposed capabilities selected to fit within the available funding.

Earth to orbit space flight demonstrations include the following capabilities:

  • Capability A: External cargo delivery and disposal. Capability A delivers cargo (payloads) that operate directly in the space environment to a LEO test bed and safely disposes cargo.
  • Capability B: Internal cargo delivery and disposal. Capability B delivers cargo (payloads) that operate within a volume maintained at normal atmospheric pressure to a LEO test bed and safely disposes cargo.
  • Capability C: Internal cargo delivery and return. Capability C delivers cargo (payloads) that operate within a volume maintained at normal atmospheric pressure to a LEO test bed and safely returns cargo.
  • Capability D: Crew transportation. Capability D delivers crew to a LEO test bed and safely returns crew.
The scope of the demonstrations involves the development and operation of an end-to-end space transportation system of services including ground operations and integration, launch, rendezvous, proximity operations, docking or berthing, orbital operations, reentry, and safe disposal or return. The demonstrations will culminate with a crew/cargo transportation mission to and from a LEO test bed for the orbital phase of the mission. NASA intends to provide the ISS as the orbital destination and active test bed if the ISS visiting vehicle requirements are satisfied. Participants may propose an alternative orbital test bed for the capability demonstrations.

Proposals are solicited for crew transportation Capability D, but only as an option to proposals for Capability C. The Capability D demonstrations will consist of multiple missions to LEO and the orbital test bed. The option will be considered for execution only after the successful demonstration of Capability C. Participants are not precluded from incorporating crew transportation technical performance goals in the proposals for Capability C.

Participants may propose a system solution targeting any of the capabilities individually or propose a system that satisfies multiple capabilities. NASA prefers to award multiple agreements for demonstrations covering all capabilities; however, due to funding limitations this may not be possible.

Payments will be made upon the successful completion of performance milestones as proposed by the participants and negotiated with NASA. NASA's contribution will be a fixed amount and will not be increased based on the participant's ability to obtain private funding. A startup milestone payment will be considered.

Capability A, B and/or C projects will commence upon the execution of the SAA targeted for June 2006 and will end after the successful flight demonstration of the selected capability expected to occur in the 2008-2010 timeframe. Capability D option is planned to commence upon the successful demonstration of Capability C and will extend for the length of time proposed and negotiated to complete the demonstration objectives. The execution of this optional period may be contingent upon additional NASA funding availability.

On 18 August 2006 NASA selected SpaceX, El Segundo, Calif. and Rocketplane-Kistler, Oklahoma City, to develop and demonstrate commercial orbital transportation services that could open new markets and pave the way for contracts to launch and deliver crew and cargo to the International Space Station. NASA and the two companies signed Space Act Agreements that establish milestones and objective criteria to assess their progress throughout Phase 1 of the competition. Once a capability is demonstrated, NASA plans to purchase crew and cargo delivery services competitively in Phase 2. "These companies were selected from a total of 20 applicants, based on solid engineering of innovative concepts and sound business plans," said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office at the Johnson Space Center, Houston.

On December 11, 2006 NASA announed that it was soliciting information from potential sources that can provide: 1) A single flight in 2009 for the delivery of 2000 kilograms (kg) of passive dry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) with equivalent volume of trash or waste disposal removed from the ISS. Dock time shall be not less than 30 days with an operational readiness date in April 2009. 2) Cargo Characteristics: - Unpowered, pressurized cargo and trash/waste - Average Cargo Density - 230 kg/m3 for launch cargo - 200 kg/m3 for trash/waste items at full capacity. Launch Cargo may include but is not limited to: - Food containers - Crew provisions and crew health care packed in Half Cargo Transfer Bags (CTBs) - Logistics spares (all items no larger than Progress hatch - 800 mm) - Other CTB packed cargo - Late Access Cargo: Provide late access/stowage for 10% of capability at launch minus 4 (L-4) days. - Trash/Waste items may include but is not limited to: - Trash packing foam (zotek, minicell or pyrell) - Consumable logistics items - Waste consumables 3) Launch vehicle environments induced on the cargo will be enveloped by the environments of existing ISS launch vehicles. No additional cargo certification for launch environments will be required by NASA. See Table 2 for ISS Cargo Carrier Environments. 4) Compliance with the appropriate visiting vehicle integration and interface requirements. In addition, a demonstration of all required certification of flight readiness and safety review processes shall be met. The cargo vehicle shall meet the ISS hardware and software interface planned for post April 2009. Additionally, the cargo vehicle shall meet the intent of the proximity operations, crew monitoring, and safety requirements enveloped by current visiting vehicle requirements. 5) A mission reliability of at least 95% at a 50% confidence level.

On October 19, 2007, as a continuation of the COTS Phase 1 project, NASA/JSC announced plans to solicit proposals from all interested industry participants for Earth to orbit space flight demonstrations of any combination of the following mission capabilities: A) External unpressurized cargo delivery and disposal, B) Internal pressurized cargo delivery and disposal, C) Internal pressurized cargo delivery, return and recovery, D) Crew Transportation. The demonstration(s) would culminate with a rendezvous and docking or berthing with the International Space Station (or another suitable alternate test bed) and disposal or recovery of cargo. Proposals for mission capability D, crew transportation, would be considered for execution only after the successful demonstration of mission capability C. NASA planned to release an announcement soliciting proposals on October 22, 2007. Responses would be due 30 days later, with agreements executed in early 2008.

In September 2007 NASA informed Congress it was terminating its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) because the company had failed to meet financial milestones. RpK had negotiated a July 31 deadline with NASA to raise $500 million in private funds to complete development of K-1. That would have freed more of the NASA funds, which were linked to technical and financial performance milestones. RpK failed to meet the deadline.

On Feb. 19, 2008 NASA selected Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., to develop and demonstrate commercial orbital transportation services that could open new markets and pave the way for contracts to launch and deliver crew and cargo to the International Space Station. NASA and Orbital Sciences signed a funded Space Act Agreement under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Project, known as COTS. The new partner will receive approximately $170 million in federal funds to supplement its privately-funded efforts. The selection of Orbital Sciences brought to seven the number of partners in which NASA is investing through COTS. NASA selected SpaceX of El Segundo, Calif., as a partner in August 2006. NASA is partnering with an additional five companies through unfunded agreements.




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