On September 18, 2013 Cygnus launched atop the Antares rocket, and 11 days later, after successfully fixing a navigation software issue, the Cygnus cargo vehicle berthed with the International Space Station. This completes almost all of the COTS program, and allows Orbital Sciences Corporation to begin delivering up to 20,000 kg of supplies – over eight launches – to the ISS, under the Commercial Re-Supply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.
“We now have two private space companies that have succeeded in delivering cargo to the International Space Station, which up until NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program arrived, was a job reserved for only the wealthiest governments,”said Foundation President James Pura. “Since 2006, the Foundation has supported the COTS program because it uses fixed-price, milestone-based awards, and believes that more funding should go into these kinds of programs, including the Commercial Crew program. Programs like COTS and CCiCap force the space industry to be innovative and not rely solely on cost-plus contracts.”
The successful berthing of the Cygnus vehicle follows in the footsteps of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which berthed for the first time in May 2012. The Space Frontier Foundation hails these historical events as proof that given the chance, the NewSpace Industry can be the fastest, most economical way to ensure we have safe and reliable access to space. This is just the beginning of a thriving, innovative and robust commercial space industry.
“Proving the capability of commercial launchers is one more step in achieving sustainable space settlement,” said Foundation space policy expert and Board of Directors member, Aaron Oesterle. “This work, combined with station utilization enabled by companies like Nanoracks and Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM module, all point towards a future where exciting space exploration is dependent upon embracing NewSpace principles.”