may accelerate plans to use its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to help commercial companies develop the ability to transport
crews to the
station after the space shuttle fleet is retired in 2010, Richard Gilbrech, NASA associate administrator for the Explorations Systems Mission Directorate, told members of Congress April 3.
“We’re in the final stages of that vetting and we’ll be happy to share the details of that with this committee,” Gilbrech told the House Science and Technology space and aeronautics subcommittee at an April 3 hearing. “We view any and all sources for closing the gap [between the shuttle retirement and its Ares 1 and Orion replacement in 2015] as ones we should be pursuing.”


COTS originally was conceived to include cargo and crew, Gilbrech said, but the funding agreements to date have been for cargo only. NASA has not requested money for the cargo transport because it is a distant possibility at this point, said NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz.


Meanwhile, NASA has renegotiated milestones spelled out under a contract with Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of El Segundo, Calif., one of NASA’s seven partners in COTS, and one of the two companies currently being funded under the program.


The changes pushed the schedule for SpaceX to conduct a
demonstration flight to show it can deliver cargo to the international space station from September 2009 to March 2010, Gilbrech said.


“They’re all technical problems that we would normally expect in these types of new rocket development programs. That’s nothing out of the ordinary that is alarming,” he said.


NASA is spending $500 million in the COTS partnership intended to stimulate the commercial space transportation market and help private companies develop safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from low Earth orbit.


NASA selected Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.,
Feb. 19 to participate in the COTS program under a $170 million contract. Orbital Sciences replaced Rocketplane Kistler after NASA said that company was not meeting the milestones established under its contract.


NASA selected SpaceX as a partner in August 2006 and is partnering with five other companies through unfunded agreements.

The companies are in Phase 1 of COTS, in which they must demonstrate at least one of the following: external, unpressurized cargo delivery and disposal; internal, pressurized cargo delivery and disposal; internal, pressurized cargo delivery and return; and an option for crew transportation.
NASA plans to purchase cargo resupply services competitively in Phase 2,
according to a Feb. 19 NASA press release.