NASA is providing significant financial resources to stimulate the development of commercial space transportation which can provide routine access to microgravity. NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative is occurring in two phases:
- Phase 1 – NASA is providing $500M for development and demonstration of commercial cargo services to LEO. It is funding cargo demonstrations of two companies, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp., under Space Act Agreements.
- Phase 2 – NASA recently awarded these companies up to $3B in contracts for commercial resupply services for the ISS.
SpaceX is an entrepreneurial firm which is developing the Falcon family of launchers. Under COTS, SpaceX is building the Falcon 9 launcher and Dragon spacecraft to deliver cargo to ISS and return cargo to Earth. It plans three demonstrations culminating in a mission to ISS in 2010. NASA has awarded SpaceX a $1.6B contract to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station. The experiment of the winner of the Microgravity Research Competition is tentatively scheduled to fly on the second SpaceX COTS demonstration mission (C2).
Orbital Sciences Corp. is an experienced builder of launchers and satellites. For COTS, Orbital is developing the Taurus II launch vehicle and Cygnus spacecraft to carry cargo to ISS. NASA awarded Orbital a $1.9B contract to transport cargo to ISS.
NASA also works with PlanetSpace and SpaceDev, which are seeking to develop commercial space transportation systems without any NASA funds. For more information on COTS and NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, visit www.nasa.gov/offices/c3po/home.