Logo used for the COTS program

Initiative Period

Commercial Cargo Development 2006 - 2013
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
Commercial Crew Transportation Capability 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) was 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[1] and successfully flew all cargo demonstration flights by September 2013. NASA has suggested that "Commercial services to ISS will be necessary through at least 2015."[2]

COTS is related but separate from the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.[3] 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.

NASA's Final Report on the Commercial Orbit Transportation Services program considers it an unqualified success and a model for future public-private collaboration. Compared to traditional costs-plus contracts employed by NASA, such as the $12 billion Orion (spacecraft) contract, the unprecedented efficiency of the $800 million COTS investment resulted in "two new U.S. medium-class launch vehicles and two automated cargo spacecraft".[4]

Purpose[edit | edit source]

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[5] 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[edit | edit source]

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.[6] 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.[6] 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.[7]

Furthermore, if such services were unavailable by the end of 2010, NASA would've been 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, since refocused, would not have been ready until 2014. NASA asserted that once COTS was operational, it would no longer procure Russian cargo delivery services.[8] On May 22, 2012, Bill Gerstenmaier confirmed that NASA was no longer purchasing any cargo resupply services from Russia and would rely 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.[9]

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.[8] 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.[10]

History[edit | edit source]

First round[edit | edit source]

In May 2006, NASA selected six semifinalist proposals for further evaluation.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

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,[14][15] freeing up $175 million from the COTS budget to be awarded to another company or companies.

Second round[edit | edit source]

By June 18, 2007, NASA had signed separate non-reimbursable Space Act Agreements with four firms.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19] Several sources later suggested that Boeing and not Andrews was a final contestant.[20]

On February 19, 2008, the second round selection was made to Orbital Sciences Corporation, for the Cygnus spacecraft.[21] 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.[22]

Following the original $500M Space Act Agreement, an additional $288M in "augmentation" funding was awarded to the two contractors before the demonstration flights.[23]

Program conclusion[edit | edit source]

The COTS program was successfully concluded in November 2013 after two companies, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, designed, built and launched "a pair of new spacecraft on rockets that also were newly designed".[24] NASA has published its own autobiographical history of the COTS program including the controlling of the development program using Space Act Agreements (SAA), with lessons for future programmes.[25]

Awards[edit | edit source]

  • 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.[23]
    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.[26]
  • 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.[23] The Antares (rocket) made its maiden flight lifting a payload mass simulator to low Earth orbit (LEO) on April 21, 2013.[27] On September 18, 2013, Antares successfully launched a Cygnus spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station.[28]

Competitors[edit | edit source]

More than twenty organizations submitted COTS proposals in March 2006 of which twenty were publicly disclosed.[29] NASA received new COTS proposals from at least seven firms by November 21, 2007.[30]

Company Spacecraft Launch vehicle Partner First
Orbital Sciences[31] Cygnus[21] Antares[21][32] Template:Dunno Template:No Yes Yes
SpaceX Dragon Falcon 9 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Andrews Space[33] Andrews Cargo Module Hercules Alliant Techsystems, MDA Yes Yes Yes Template:No
Boeing Automated Transfer Vehicle[Clarification needed] Delta IV[Clarification needed] Arianespace, EADS Astrium[Clarification needed] Template:Dunno Template:No Yes Template:No
PlanetSpace[34][35] Orbital Transfer Vehicle[36] Athena III[37] Alliant Techsystems, Lockheed Martin Template:No Template:No Yes Template:No
SpaceHab[38][39] ARCTUS Atlas V Lockheed Martin Yes Yes Yes Template:No
Rocketplane Kistler K-1 K-1 Orbital Sciences[40] Yes Yes Template:No Template:No
Venturer Aerospace S-550 (spacecraft)[41] Falcon 9 SpaceX Yes Template:No Template:No Template:No
SpaceDev[42][43] Dream Chaser Atlas V Lockheed Martin Yes Yes Template:Dunno Template:No
t/Space[44][45] Crew Transfer Vehicle QuickReach AirLaunch Yes Yes Template:Dunno Template:No
Constellation Services International[46] Progress Soyuz RKK Energia Template:Dunno Template:No Template:Dunno Template:No
Lockheed Martin ATV, H-II Transfer Vehicle Atlas V EADS Astrium, JAXA Template:Dunno Template:No Template:Dunno Template:No
PanAero Space Van[citation needed] Space Van Template:Dunno Template:No Template:Dunno Template:No
Space Systems/Loral Space Tug Aquarius Launch Vehicle Constellation Services International[47] Template:Dunno Template:No Template:Dunno Template:No
Advent Launch Services[citation needed] Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:No Template:Dunno Template:No
Exploration Partners[citation needed] Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:No Template:Dunno Template:No
Odyssey Space Research[citation needed] Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:No Template:Dunno Template:No
Thortek Laboratories[citation needed] Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:No Template:Dunno Template:No
Triton Systems[citation needed] Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:Dunno Template:No Template:Dunno Template:No

Commercial Resupply Services[edit | edit source]

Main article: Commercial Resupply Services

In May 2012, SpaceX completed its final demonstration mission.


On December 22, 2008, NASA stated they would discuss the contract selection to provide commercial cargo resupply services for the International Space Station.[48] NASA announced the awarding of contracts to both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation in a press conference on December 23, 2008.[3] The contracts include a minimum of 20 missions, 12 missions for SpaceX and 8 missions for Orbital Sciences ($3.5 Billion).[49][50] PlanetSpace submitted a protest to the Government Accountability Office after receiving a NASA debriefing on the outcome of the award.[51] On April 22, 2009 GAO publicly released its decision to deny the protest.[52]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Template:Cite press release
  2. Space Operations Mission Directorate (2006-08-30). "Human Space Flight Transition Plan". NASA. http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/315546main_space_flight_transition_plan.pdf. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "NASA Awards Space Station Commercial Resupply Services Contracts". NASA, December 23, 2008.
  4. Template:Cite press release
  5. "COTS Vendors" (xls). NASA Johnson Space Center. Archived from the original on 2006-09-29. https://web.archive.org/web/20060929071448/http://procurement.jsc.nasa.gov/cots/Vendors.xls. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "X Prize Comments by Mike Griffin". NASA. 2006-10-20. http://www.comspacewatch.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=22396. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  7. Template:Cite conference
  8. 8.0 8.1 Template:Cite conference
  9. "SpaceX/NASA Discuss launch of Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule". NASA. 22 May 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJNNiYPyAeQ. Retrieved 23 June 2012. 
  10. "Commercial Space Development – What’s the Next?". NASA, November 15, 2007.
  11. Valin Thorn, "Commercial Crew & Cargo Program Overview," AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting, January 11, 2007 (accessed 28 April 2014). See also: Belfiore, Michael (May 9, 2006). "NASA makes first round of cuts for COTS". Dispatches from the Final Frontier. Archived from the original on 2006-06-14. https://web.archive.org/web/20060614075601/http://michaelbelfiore.com/blog/2006/05/nasa-makes-first-round-of-cuts-for.html. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  12. Template:Cite press release
  13. Template:Cite press release
  14. Template:Cite news
  15. NASA Cuts Funds for Private Space Venture
  16. Template:Cite news
  17. Template:Cite news
  18. Template:Cite news
  19. Template:Cite news
  20. "COTS I ReAward Final Cut Poll". forum.NasaSpaceflight.com. 2008-02-05. http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=11516&start=151&mid=238477#M238477. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 NASASpaceflight.com - Orbital beat a dozen competitors to win NASA COTS contract
  22. "COTS Selection Statement - Feb, 08". forum.NasaSpaceflight.com. 2008-04-24. http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=12822.0. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 "Statement of William H. Gerstenmaier Associate Administrator for Space Operations before the Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics U.S. House of Representatives". U.S. House of Representatives. 26 May 2011. http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/hearings/052611_Gerstenmaier%20Testimony.pdf. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  24. Template:Cite news
  25. "Commercial Orbital Transportation Services - A New Era in Spaceflight". NASA. February 2014. NASA/SP-2014-617. http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/SP-2014-617.pdf. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  26. Moskowitz, Clara (31 May 2012). "SpaceX Dragon Capsule Splashes Down in Pacific, Ending Historic Test Flight". Space.com. New York. Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. http://www.webcitation.org/684gT6Bk0. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  27. "Orbital Successfully Launches First Antares Rocket". press release. Orbital Sciences Corporation. http://www.orbital.com/NewsInfo/release.asp?prid=852. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  28. Josh Byerly, Trent J. Perrotto. "Press RELEASE 13-284 NASA Partner Orbital Sciences Launches Demonstration Mission to Space Station". www.nasa.gov. NASA. http://www.nasa.gov/press/2013/september/nasa-partner-orbital-sciences-launches-demonstration-mission-to-space-station/#.UjpPkX_zqkw. Retrieved September 19, 2013. 
  29. Template:Cite news
  30. Template:Cite press release
  31. Template:Cite press release
  32. http://www.spaceflightnow.com/antares/111212antares/
  33. "COTS 2006 Demo Competition". NASA. 2012-03-02. http://www.nasa.gov/offices/c3po/about/cots_demo_competition.html. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  34. Template:Cite press release
  35. Template:Cite press release
  36. "Strange space bedfellows". MSNBC. http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/11/30/490524.aspx. 
  37. Bergin, Chris (2008-01-21). "ATK's new vehicle to provide multi-access options". http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5337. 
  38. Template:Cite press release
  39. Template:Cite press release
  40. Template:Cite press release
  41. Template:Cite news
  42. Template:Cite press release
  43. Template:Cite press release
  44. Template:Cite press release
  45. Template:Cite press release
  46. Template:Cite press release
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  48. "NASA to Announce Space Station Resupply Services Contract". NASA HQ. 2008-12-22. http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2008/dec/HQ_M08-267_ISS_resupply_call.html. 
  49. http://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20140011156
  50. Morring, Jr., Frank. "Space Station Resupply Contracts Awarded". Aviation Week, December 24, 2008.
  51. Chris Bergin (January 15, 2009). "Planetspace officially protest NASA’s CRS selection". http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/01/planetspace-officially-protest-nasas-crs-selection/. 
  52. "B-401016; B-401016.2, PlanetSpace, Inc., April 22, 2009". GAO. April 22, 2009. http://www.gao.gov/decisions/bidpro/401016.htm. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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