Will Florida Lure Orbital’s COTS Program Away from Virginia?

One interesting bit of news that came out of the Space Access ’08 conference in Phoenix involved efforts by Florida to lure Orbital Sciences’ COTS program away from Virginia.

NASA recently awarded the Dulles, Virginia-based company with a $170 million contract to develop commercial transport to the International Space Station under its COTS initiative. Orbital Sciences will operate out of Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Jim Muncy of PoliSpace told conference attendees that Florida is trying to convince Orbital to move the program south, according to an account of his talk on Rand Simberg’s Transterrestrial Musings blog.

“You should see the list of things that Orbital wants from Florida to get them to move there from Wallops,” Muncy is quoted as saying. Simberg’s post provides no elaboration.

Muncy also told the crowd that Senator Bill Nelson of Florida plans to introduce legislation to increase COTS funding by several hundred million dollars. The additional funding would help bolster efforts by SpaceX, a California company whose Dragon spacecraft would fly cargo and crews to ISS.

The money also could be used to bring another competitor into COTS to build a human-rated orbital vehicle, he added. The Orbital Sciences vehicle would carry cargo only.

Nelson and other members of Congress are concerned about a possible five-year gap between the end of space shuttle operations in 2010 and the first flight of its successor, Orion. Adding funding to COTS would be a way to close that gap and possibly lure commercial space companies to Florida, Muncy said.