Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) sounds like a circumlocution, a long-winded way of saying space-taxi, but the first flight of the commercial rocket Falcon 9 by the Space X Corporation is a milestone in the movement (trend, effort, or struggle) toward private for-profit companies taking at least some of the space flights that have been reserved for governments. Falcon 9, a single stage rocket with a dummy orbiting package on-board, launched successfully from Cape Canaveral in Florida (USA) on Friday (June 4, 2010). Eventually, the Falcon 9 and perhaps other commercial rockets will be engaged to fly cargo and then astronauts to the International Space Station.
At the moment, the transition from government to commercial space flight is highly controversial (at least in the United States). Under the Obama administration’s new plan for space, private industry is to be helped by NASA to begin commercializing routine flights into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This plan is resisted by Congresspeople from states that have existing government space contracts, many of which programs will be cut under the Obama plan. Some of them have contended that private space companies are incapable of providing reliable and safe LEO services. (That remains to be seen, of course, as they should be at least as safe as NASA’s record.) The successful launch of Falcon 9 may have some influence on this line of argument.