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Monday, August 07, 2006

COTS vs. CEV

John Kavanagh, at COTS Watch, asked me to write if I thought realistic for NASA to be both the COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) customer and a competitor.

I have thought about this over the weekend. There are a few implied questions here that I will address individually.

1. Can NASA/Congress chose to buy private rides to the ISS if the CEV is available?

Yes, it is possible. If the political landscape changes such that Congress is thrifty, they will chose the cheaper option. NASA, for all it's past behavior, will do what Congress forces them to do. Will this happen? I don't know. It doesn't happen a lot. Congress-people tend to like to spend money for their state. If the CEV is available, their needs to be something else for it to do that will allow Congress to fund their constituents.

2. Should the CEV be built if private rides are going to be available?

I am not sure. It seems on the face, no. To change my mind, I would need to see what the plan for the CEV is. If it's sole purpose in life is to get people to orbit, then I have to stick my initial reaction. If someone can show me another use for it that private launchers can't fill, then yes.

3. Can the CEV and COTS share ISS needs?

No. There just isn't the economics to support this. In order for private companies to make money off this, they need all the launches they can get. Splitting up the launches between, say SpaceX and CEV, will make it very difficult for SpaceX to succeed.

So in effect, if NASA doesn't need the CEV, don't build it. If they do then make sure to elect economic conservatives to congress. Otherwise, COTS is doomed to a footnote in space exploration history.

[update: Thanks to Mark Whittingham for pointing out my typo. That will teach me to write when I am tired. --djs]

1 comment:

John Kavanagh said...

Insightful, Dan. Thanks!