Congress, NASA

Sometimes COTS-D isn’t COTS-D

Last week Sen. Bill Nelson made a vigorous defense of COTS Capability D (COTS-D) during a hearing with acting NASA administrator Chris Scolese, pressing Scolese on why NASA wasn’t funding Space Act agreements for COTS-D as directed by the NASA Authorization Act of 2008. Those comments stood out in broad relief compared to the criticism directed towards commercial ISS crew transportation made earlier the same day by Sen. Richard Shelby.

Now, the Orlando Sentinel reports, Nelson may be backtracking on that support, claiming that he wasn’t necessarily supporting COTS-D, despite his comments in last Thursday’s hearing. “Whatever you heard, I want to make sure you understand I wasn’t specifically pushing COTS-D,” Nelson told the Sentinel. “What I was pushing was launch complex 36 [at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station]. … COTS-D first off is a human-rated program and that has not been sanctioned by NASA yet.”

It’s hard to go back to Nelson’s statements last week and conclude that he was somehow referring to LC-36. One of the major criticisms of efforts to develop LC-36 into a new commercial launch facility, the paper noted, is the lack of customers for it, something that COTS-D would not address: SpaceX has its own site at Cape Canaveral; ULA has existing facilities for Atlas 5 and Delta 4 that would likely be used for any potential ISS crew transportation efforts; and Orbital Sciences, if it decided to pursue ISS crew transportation in the future (it’s not now), is investing in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. The connection between COTS-D and LC-36 appears all but non-existent.

Meanwhile, in a panel on COTS at the International Space Development Conference in Orlando on Thursday afternoon, Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, was asked by NASA didn’t fund SpaceX’s COTS-D option. Lindenmoyer suggested it was solely a matter of funding: that option was valued at $300 million, while NASA was only offering $150 million in stimulus funding for commercial crew programs. “We just simply don’t have the funding appropriated at this time to execute the option or pursue any other COTS-D capability at this time,” he said. That seemed to suggest that if they had $300 million available, they would have considered the existing option in the SpaceX agreement; Scolese, in the hearing last week, indicated that he felt they would need “several times” the $150 million available to demonstrate a commercial crew transportation capability.

7 comments to Sometimes COTS-D isn’t COTS-D

  • “We just simply don’t have the funding appropriated at this time to execute the option or pursue any other COTS-D capability at this time,”

    The reason? The fiscal black hole called Ares.

  • SpaceMan

    The fiscal black hole called Ares


    The fiscal black hole called the bank bailout & the DoD would be more likely targets not to mention the REAL federal budget problem, medical cost growth.

    “…If we brought the cost curve in the expensive places down to their level, Medicare’s problems (indeed, almost all the federal government’s budget problems for the next fifty years) would be solved….”

    Be honest and pay attention to the whole picture not just your pet area.

  • SpaceMan

    Since the block quote citation markup doesn’t work here is the URL for the Medicare quote in my post above

  • Major Tom

    So let me get this straight…

    Sen. Nelson is interested in throwing federal tax dollars at an empty launch pad that, even after sinking considerable Florida tax dollars into the facility, no one is interested in using and therefore won’t create any ongoing business, jobs, or tax revenue in Florida.

    But Sen. Nelson is not interested in accelerating the development of a space transportation capability that NASA and the private sector are interested in using and that would create an ongoing business, jobs, and tax revenue in Florida.

    I’m no fan of parochial politics, but if we’re going to twist the nation’s space program and siphon my federal tax dollars to serve Florida, then let’s at least do so intelligently in a way that actually benefits Florida.

    How idiotic…

  • common sense

    Well, I guess my doubts were founded after all. I may have gotten carried away with overt enthusiasm about Sen. Nelson. I naively thought that he may help uphold the law as it is written for NASA to support commercial endeavors. Very disenchanting.

    As to Scolese comments, very sad too. It may take multiples of $150M to actually get a human-rated vehicle per NASA’s guidelines, but how many multiples until the cost of Ares/Orion? Especially if the eventual sole purpose of Constellation is go to LEO.

    If the leadership cannot get to the realization that it may take awhile but, if there is will, Private space will make it happen with whatever funds they have. If it so happens then NASA’s exploration, especially if limited to LEO, will become irrelevant and obsolete. Then said leadership can go cry to Congress to get any money to do anything that makes sense!

  • Al Fansome

    As others have ably pointed out, Nelson’s stated logic does not make sense.

    I suspect that the “status quo” powers got to Senator Nelson, and we are left with the best excuse he could come up with for changing his position.


    – Al

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