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ULA Atlas V to form part of COTS challenge

United Launch Alliance's Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket could form part of a bid for funds from NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration programme, if they become available following October's expected departure of Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) from COTS.

California-based Constellation Services International (CSI) has signed a memorandum of understanding with ULA to pursue the potential launching of CSI's LEO Express cargo cannister by an Atlas V for International Space Station resupply and other missions. The COTS programme is intended to provide ISS resupply services after the Space Shuttle fleet is retired.

The LEO Express cargo cannister could deliver up to 13,000kg (28,600lb) to ISS because it does not need propulsion and guidance systems to reach the station. This is because it would be met in its low Earth orbit by a Energia-built Progress vehicle that would have already been docked with the ISS. The Progress would automatically dock with the cannister to act as a space tug and take it to the station.

"The Progress would only have to have a few software upgrades to cope with the characteristics of the new combined [Progress/CSI cannister] vehicle. We know this because we paid Energia for the analysis in 2002," says CSI chief executive Charles Miller.

He adds that should COTS funds be available he would "engage NASA". In COTS RpK was competing with Space Exploration Technologies to demonstrate a cargo transportation system by 2010. RpK failed to meet required COTS financing and technical milestones, NASA could end its involvement by 8 October.

CSI was an unsuccessful bidder for funded COTS space act agreements but had won NASA Alternate Access to Station programme contracts worth $3.1 million before that project's cancellation in 2003.




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