Orbital beat a dozen competitors to win NASA COTS contract

The re-award of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract – called after RpK’s failure to reach designated milestones – has been won by Orbital Sciences Corporation, due to being the “best, sustainable business case.”

At the center of the bid is a new vehicle, OSC’s Taurus II – a medium class launch vehicle – which will debut via a demonstration flight in 2010.

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Orbital beat out strong competition from dark horse Boeing – who had a version of their Orion contract bid at the center of their proposal, and other companies such as Spacehab, ATK/Planetspace and Space Systems/Loral/CSI. (See also RpK’s removal).

Orbital’s COTS demonstration mission is scheduled to take place in the fourth quarter of 2010.  Subject to NASA’s future requirements, Orbital will be prepared to carry out several follow-on operational COTS missions in 2011 and to conduct as many as eight operational ISS cargo flights a year by 2012 and 2013. 

This system will consist of a new advanced maneuvering spacecraft called Cygnus, along with several interchangeable modules for pressurized and unpressurized cargo, and will be launched on Orbital’s new Taurus II medium-lift rocket.

The Cygnus spacecraft to be launched aboard the Taurus II rocket will be capable of delivering up to 2,300 kg of cargo to the ISS and will be able to return 1,200 kg of cargo from the ISS to Earth.

‘The COTS project is strategically important to both NASA and Orbital,’ said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

”For NASA, the ability to deliver cargo to the International Space Station with reasonably priced commercial services is part of its long-term plan to rely on American industry for routine Earth-orbit operations, as the space agency focuses on returning astronauts to the Moon and beyond. 

‘For Orbital, the COTS project is a critical element of the company’s strategy to play an expanded role in human spaceflight programs, including ISS operations and the development and support of NASA’s Orion program.’

The company’s design, manufacturing and testing activities related to the Taurus II rocket will be done in Dulles and Chandler, Arizona.  Early COTS missions are planned to be launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, with integrated mission operations conducted from control centers in Dulles and Houston, Texas.
The COTS project will provide NASA with a U.S.-produced and -operated automated cargo delivery service for ISS support, to complement Russian, European and Japanese cargo vehicles.

Dr. Antonio L. Elias, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group, is leading the company-wide team that is developing the Taurus II launch vehicle and the Cygnus spacecraft.

Click here to read Dr Elias’ exclusive – and ongoing – Q&A with NASASpaceflight.com readers.

‘By serving as an anchor mission for Orbital’s Taurus II rocket, the COTS project will not only benefit NASA’s ISS operations with reliable commercial cargo service once the system is fully operational,’ he noted, ‘but will also aid NASA’s Earth and space science and planetary exploration programs with lower-cost launches of medium-class satellites.’

Orbital join current COTS contractor Space X, who are continuing to develop their Falcon and Dragon vehicles in time to take up ISS supply, post shuttle retirement.

‘NASA plans to get out of low Earth orbit and focus on going back to the moon to prepare explorers for a future voyage to Mars,’ said Rick Gilbrech, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

‘Being able to buy safe, reliable and economical service to low Earth orbit will help us achieve our national goals.’

Space X and now Orbital, are tasked with completing milestones In Phase 1, where they will demonstrate one or more of four capabilities: 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.

‘Our investment in the space transportation industry holds just as much promise for the future as government’s investment in the railroads and airlines produced in the past,’ said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office at JSC.

‘Like any wise investor would, we chose a transportation provider whose innovative concept is based on solid engineering and a sound business plan.’

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