Monday, July 03, 2006

COTS Funding Controversy.

There's a storm brewing over this story of reduced COTS funding in NASA's 2007 budget. (Here.) Blog commentary is here and here.

The President's NASA budget proposal is available online in PDF form. (Here, at p. 227 of 451, paginated as SAE ESMD 2-14.)

The draft budget shows a huge reduction in the amount of money anticipated to be spent from the 2006 budget to the 2007 budget request. The line item is called ISS Cargo Crew Services and includes more than just the COTS program. Here are the numbers in millions of dollars.

Year...............2007 Request.....Change From 2006 Request
FY2005..................................- 98
FY2006.................... 51.3 ........- 108.7
FY2007................... 191.1 ........- 31.1
FY2008................... 292.5 ........- 132.5
FY2009................... 398.6 ........- 101.4
FY2010................... 403.0 ........- 317.0
FY2011................... 375.0

Here's what those numbers fund:
"The ISS Cargo and Crew Services budget consists of two elements:

-International Partner Purchases: Government-to-government purchases of Russian Soyuz and Progress flights to meet nearterm ISS logistical requirements that cannot be met by the Space Shuttle. NASA may also purchase Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) flights for external cargo delivery.

-Commercial Crew/Cargo Project: Development and demonstration of commercial space transportation services from domestic companies. NASA's Commercial Crew/Cargo project is designed to facilitate U.S. private industry demonstration of cargo and crew space transportation capabilities with the goal of achieving reliable, cost effective access to low-Earth orbit."
It's unclear from the budget document how much of the money goes to COTS and how much to other services. But this is what NASA said about the anticipated funding levels for COTS in millions of dollars:

FY 2006.............$ 50
FY 2007.............$120
FY 2008.............$200
FY 2009.............$130

TOTAL...............$500

(Here, p. 12 of 25)

Regardless, there is this advice about funding on the same page.
"In order to maximize capability coverage, participants are expected to secure additional funds to supplement the NASA funding as shown above. ... The Government’s obligation to enter into agreements is contingent upon the availability of appropriated funds. NASA’s contribution will be a fixed amount and will not be increased based on the participant’s ability to obtain private funding."
COTS participants can't say they weren't warned. If NASA is going to spend less than anticipated, the COTS participants might have to raise a bit more money from the private sector to make up the difference.

There's always Robert Bigelow's America's Space Prize if the unreliability of tax dollars from COTS isn't worth the trouble. No government money is allowed in Bigelow's venture, so all the funding would come from the private sector. Of course, the prize is only $50 million as opposed to $500 million from NASA. (Here.) But proving that the new space captains of industry don't need no stinkin' tax dollars would be priceless, wouldn't it?

-tdr

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