A very interesting solicitation from NASA suggests the agency is sticking its toe in the water a little further in incorporating commercial capabilities into its long-term plans. Titled Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities, the NASA synopsis, which is calling for unfunded Space Act Agreements, begins with:
” NASA encourages innovative and entrepreneurial efforts within the private sector to develop new space-related capabilities. These new capabilities may result in opportunities for industry to provide cost-effective commercial products and services to low Earth orbit and beyond for the Government and other customers.”
The operative word here is “beyond” and taken along with the agency’s collaboration with Bigelow Aerospace in seeking to assess commercial lunar capabilities, could be taken as a sign that despite the reflexive “We are building SLS” statement which seemingly accompanies every NASA press release, and runs continuously on NASA tv, some elements within the agency clearly understand that extending the COTS/CRS model beyond LEO is the only viable long-term strategy, whether it is done in conjunction with SLS, or in its place. In case there are any doubts which way that might go, the Space Review has a good article updating some previous analysis regarding the program’s actual costs. While the conclusions are depressing, albeit hardly surprising, as today’s commercial partnership announcement should remind, it took a lot of leg work by key NASA personnel to get COTS off the ground, and it all happened in midst of Project Constellation.