About a week and a half ago I noted here that some were concerned with NASA’s decision earlier this month to sign a contract with Roskosmos for ISS resupply through 2011, including both Progress cargo and Soyuz crew missions. Their concern was with mixed messages or a lack of confidence that NASA appeared to be showing in the two companies with COTS demonstration contracts, Rocketplane and SpaceX.
Now there’s word that those concerns may have adverse consequences for the industry. An an email sent out very late last night (or very early this morning, depending on your point of view) by space consultant Charles Lurio warns that the NASA-Roskosmos contract could deal a fatal blow to one company by reducing the market for resupply services, and thus the potential revenue available to the company. “My primary informant stated that within weeks (or at best a few months) this will likely directly lead to the collapse of one of the COTS winners due to the loss of ability to close the business case for needed private capital,” he writes. Lurio doesn’t say which company is at risk, but Rocketplane had been working for months to line up private funding to supplement its COTS award, while SpaceX appears to relying for now on founder Elon Musk’s pocketbook. (Lurio adds that “the other winner may not be as immanently [sic] vulnerable, but still has limits to how far it can go without a firm initial market.) Such a failure, Lurio warns, would be “a body blow to a big part of the ‘New Space’ enterprise,” an assessment that’s hard to disagree with, regardless of the exact nature of the current situation facing one or both of the COTS companies.