The greatest thing since sliced bread, or so it would seem to the 475nm Ribbon Panel, is COTS. While there is nothing "off-the-shelf" about a commercial cargo and crew delivery service today, even the new Band Leader and Snow Princess have high hopes for a miracle on E Street.
Unfortunately, not much about the program announced last week makes sense or cents.
Who has ever heard of a government agency trying to put together a workable program that effectively puts the same government agency out of business? Bureaucracies are constructed to do just the opposite, to perpetuate their existence well past the their time of need. COTS seeks to take away just about the only remaining job the minions have left in their soon to be empty jar, that of safely transporting 475nm suiters to low earth orbit.
Can you imagine Danica Patrick being asked to sit in the back seat while she takes a ride around Indy? Maybe a tank rolling off a Fed-Ex C-5A in the middle east? How about a Blue Angel being moved aside by a Southwest Airline pilot? Can you visualize an F-18 pulling up to a Chevron decaled KC-tanker? Or Neil Armstrong in the back of a yellow taxi headed for Tranquility Base?
Having a hard time with those aren't you? As well do the minions.
And consider, how will those same bureaucrats more known for buying $475 toilet seats and $1200 hammers figure out how to buy rocket seats cheaper than the price they currently pay driving themselves? (oh wait, they did figure that out didn't they, Mr. Putin?) The odds of that happening in non-ITAR fashion are vanishingly small as well. Its not because the private sector couldn't do the job more cost effectively, in theory, than the government. The problem is that the government isn't going very far away when it comes time to mil-specify the leather on the seats in the Dragonbuster 3000 XL. And it will also wait until its too late to make that specification. And then they'll change it. Three times.
The new program, announced Thursday, suffers from all of the above. Failure to exemplify knowledgeable, inspiring, confidence-building leadership. Check. Failure to identify market, expected price points, and overall business case. Check. Failure to specify exact human rating requirements. Check. Failure to pin down destination interfaces. Check.
So what will be the result of all this wishy-washy-ness, this gap-non-filler?
We suspect a musky down payment on a launch abort system to be argued over in bankruptcy court next year. Anyone else interested in making a buck on this job will stay far far away from this program.