Los Angeles, CA, August 18, 2006 – The Space Frontier Foundation congratulated SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler, the two winners of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation (COTS) program announced today at NASA headquarters. The winners, selected out of a field that began with at least 20 teams, will split a total of approximately $500 million in funding to help them develop transportation systems that can be used to support the International Space Station (ISS).
“I am sure a couple of corks will be popping tonight at these companies, they deserve to celebrate,” said the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson. “We congratulate both teams for winning a hard fought race. COTS funding, though too small to result in actual crewed vehicles to ISS, helps boost the opportunity for these firms to reach orbit. As such, it is at least one small step – if not quite a giant leap – in the right direction. COTS is an excellent investment for American taxpayers – in fact it is one of the smartest things NASA is doing today.” The Foundation believes the COTS program is vital to the U.S. goal of opening space. If successful, it will help new space transportation firms develop vehicles for low cost transportation to Earth orbit for both government and private customers – the key to commercial space activities, and returning to the Moon and exploring Mars. The Foundation contends NASA is risking the entire project by selecting only two winners, and investing such a tiny amount, relative to its budget. They point out that COTS is getting less than 5% of what NASA is spending on its Constellation program, which includes a Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) to serve the same market, and less than 1% of the agency’s budget over the next five years.
“More money, more players, much more support. This is what must happen if COTS is to succeed,” said Jeff Krukin, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “If NASA is serious about creating an affordable and sustainable U.S. presence in space, they must change their course right now – or they will fail. A broader COTs investment, combined with pay-for-delivery orbital contracts, will help create an economy in space. CEV does the opposite, protecting giant aerospace and its allies while driving innovators and competition out of the market. Congress needs to revisit this program with an eye to forcing the agency to do it right.”
The group believes COTS may end up the victim of a self-fulfilling prophecy due to lack of funds, or be killed by the traditional aerospace giants to whom NASA is giving billions to develop vehicles whose only mission is in low Earth orbit (LEO). Instead, Foundationers are calling for NASA to cancel the LEO portion of the current Constellation plan and use the funds to kick-start a NewSpace LEO transportation industry. Meanwhile, traditional aerospace companies can use their experience and abilities to develop spaceships for use between planets. To support this argument, the Foundation recently issued a white paper calling for COTS to be greatly expanded.
Click here to download the white paper as a pdf. “COTS is a bright and tiny light shining in the heart of NASA’s bureaucratic darkness,” said Tumlinson. “It is woefully underfunded, has too few participants, no follow-on plans for human passengers, and if successful is a threat to the old aerospace establishment, which is wasting billions to do the same thing. We must protect and grow COTS if this nation is to lead the world into space.”