Commercial cargo hearing today

The space subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is holding a hearing this morning on NASA's commercial ISS cargo program. The hearing will feature executives from Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, the two companies developing cargo vehicles to transport cargo to and from the station, as well as a Government Accountability Office (GAO) official and Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations. The hearing's charter suggests that the subcommittee will be taking a critical look at the progress the two companies have made. "To date NASA has spent over $1.25 Billion on the Commercial Cargo effort without accomplishing a demonstration to the ISS," the charter claims. That figure appears to include all FY2011 funding (which presumably has not been completely spent yet), including $466 million in Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract funding to support future cargo missions and $288 million in "Cargo Augmentation" included for FY11 to provide additional milestones for the two companies under their Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) awards. The charter is critical of schedule delays in the development of Orbital's Taurus 2/Cygnus and SpaceX's Falcon 9/Dragon systems that led NASA to seek the augmentation funding as well as procure the CRS before any COTS demo flights. The charter also argues that the commercial vehicles will have a much higher cost per pound of cargo to the station: $26,770 per pound under the CRS contract versus $21,268/lb. for the shuttle and $18,149/lb. for the Russian Progress. (Those figures appear to be based on the minimum mass contracted under the CRS awards; those per-pound costs could be significantly lower if the contracted flights are fully loaded at the same price.)

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