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NASA’s cargo transport plans lose orbit

NASAÆs cargo transport plans lose orbit

   A congressional watchdog agency told Congress that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's schedule to deliver cargoes to the International Space Station after 2010 by private sector-developed vehicles is already at risk of falling behind.

   'Delays in the availability of commercial partners' vehicles to fill the cargo resupply gap would result in diminished usage of the space station,' the Government Accountability Office warned in a report released this week.

   NASA estimates that it will ship upwards of 82.7 metric tons of dry cargo to the space station between 2010 and 2015 to meet crew needs and support maintenance and scientific experiments. Half of this cargo is to be delivered by private sector vehicle developers.

   Space cargo transporters are under development for NASA by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corp. However, in recent months, both companies have announced delays in their technical demonstration schedules.

   NASA's 2005 Authorization Act directed the agency to work closely with the private sector to encourage development of new ways to launch satellites, crew and cargo, and to crew and cargo transport services to the space station, which is scheduled for completion in 2010.

   In November 2006, NASA created the Commercial Crew and Cargo program office at Johnson Space Center to move the initiative forward. About $500 million for fiscal years 2006 through 2010 has been budgeted for development and demonstration of cargo transport capabilities.

   NASA officials generally supported the conclusions of the GAO report. Douglas R. Cooke, NASA's associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, said in a June 5 letter to the GAO that he found the report to be 'thorough, objective and helpful in addressing commercial crew and cargo demonstration efforts.'

   The complete GAO report is available here.