Monday, July 03, 2006

COTS Funding Story Error Needs Explaining.

Now Transterrestrial Musings is citing sources in NASA who say that COTS funding is stable. Everybody's breathing a sigh of relief. (Here.) The teapot tempest started over this article. (Here.) We posted about it earlier today and listed the relevant budget numbers. (Here.)

In retrospect, the numbers didn't suggest a reduction in COTS funding. The numbers did show future cuts from what would have been spent under the 2006 NASA budget request. Regardless, the budget numbers still showed sufficient funding for the line item COTS is on to pay for COTS over the next four years with a margin for spending on other services. Unfortunately, the budget didn't show how money was allocated between COTS and other services on the line item. So without a comment from the government all anybody had was the flightglobal.com story saying COTS funding was being shortchanged.

We still don't have an on-the-record comment from NASA about the story. The numbers look positive, however, and corroboration for the likelihood that COTS funding is safe is found in a House Appropriations Committee's report on funding for NASA's budget posted on spaceref.com. (Here, June 23, 2006.)
"Exploration Systems. - The recommendation includes a total of $3,827,600,000 for Exploration Systems. The recommendation includes the requested funding levels for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the Crew Launch Vehicle, and International Space Station Cargo Crew Services. The recommendation reduces funding for Constellation Systems program support activities by $16,000,000."
COTS funding is included in "International Space Station Cargo Crew Services."

Which leads us back to the original story on the flightglobal.com website. This is how the story described its sources:
"The US space systems companies Andrews Space, Spacehab, Rocketplane-Kistler, SpaceDev, Space Exploration Technologies and Transformational Space are all competing for COTS contracts.
Sources close to the companies have told Flight International that the NASA budget proposal for fiscal year 2007 has a major reduction for COTS, which could make the project's targets unobtainable."
It's important now to know who these sources are. Are they close to all the named companies? Are they close to only one or a few? Why did they pass on the misinformation? Or did the reporter get it wrong? Are the sources really that clueless at how COTS will be funded or were they deliberating trying to create a controversy over COTS funding for some other purpose?

The flightglobal.com story is even more mystifying because of this sentence in it:
"Despite the 2007 budget concerns the agency will provide $50 million for COTS, divided between the winners, in its first fiscal year."
Well, $50 million is what NASA intended to spend on COTS in the first fiscal year all along, as our quote from page 12 of the NASA COTS announcement document (here) showed in our first post on this issue.

The more you look at the story the less it seems that an explanation should be forthcoming from NASA about COTS funding. Instead, either the reporter or his sources owe us all an explanation. If the reporter got it wrong, that's one thing. But if the sources misled the reporter, then revealing who these sources are and hearing an explanation from them would go a long way towards clearing up this mess. A lot further than a statement from NASA that might say, "We've been saying we need you since last summer. We need you. We really need you. And when we said before we are going to spend $500 million on COTS, we meant it."

-tdr

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I would note that not all my sources were from within NASA. Some were high-level contacts with those familiar with the administration.
 
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