In this week’s issue of The Space Review, I write about concerns by many about the direction of COTS, specifically its current emphasis exclusively on cargo missions rather than cargo and crew. That concern is rooted in the belief that cargo-only solutions would have only a single customer—NASA resupply of ISS—while a crewed vehicle could serve not just ISS but also other markets, ranging from Bigelow Aerospace’s planned orbital facilities to standalone orbital tourism. Some of those additional markets could also spur demand for cargo services, but only if there’s a way to get people up there as well.
There is some congressional support for getting NASA to press ahead with “Capability D”, as the crew transportation option of COTS is formally known. Both the House and Senate versions of the NASA authorization bill include language that directs NASA to select teams for funded Space Act agreements for Capability D work. While that directive may make it into law, a bigger challenge will be finding the money needed to carry out those efforts, particularly if NASA does not get a formal appropriations bill for FY2009.