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June 30, 2009 Vol. 2, Issue 6


NASA’s COTS partners SpaceX and Orbital have demonstrated solid progress, but are now faced with adhering to aggressive schedules in order to meet upcoming milestones, according to a recent assessment by the General Accountability Office (GAO).

GAO found that NASA has adhered to the project management tools and expenditure plan for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Program (COTS), acknowledging the agency’s supervision of the commercial contractors hired to provide commercial space cargo transport to maintain the International Space Station (ISS) after the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010. The establishment of project milestones, payment plan, identification, assessment, and documentation of risk, and consistent communication with the commercial contractors has been central to the timeliness and progress of the COTS program so far.

GAO also reported that SpaceX and Orbital, the two COTS contractors, are encountering difficulties and delays. SpaceX has successfully completed 14 of the 22 milestones that NASA set for it, but the fifteenth — the first demonstration mission readiness review — is now delayed by two to four months. Orbital has completed 7 of the 19 milestones, but is now experiencing delays, as the type of cargo transportation has been changed from the original plans, creating more milestones to meet. This has pushed back its mission demonstration from December of 2010 to March of 2011.

SpaceX and Orbital are expected to carry over half of the 82.7 metric tons of dry cargo needed to maintain the space station between 2010 and 2015. The remaining cargo will be transported by international space agencies. Delays leading into 2010 threaten the scientific research capabilities of the ISS. If these delays extend into 2011, the capacity to maintain a six-man crew and scientific experiments at the station will be severely compromised.

Read the full report. (PDF)

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