Are there examples of Components Off The Shelf (COTS) used in the Space Transportation System?

And is NASA considering using COTS in future manned space flight systems like Orion and the SLS?

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, COTS, the bad acronym. Its first widespread use meant "computer off the shelf" for non-customized systems in the "early" days. It got generalized to "commercial off the shelf" that most people think it means. Then NASA came along and decided to use it as meaning "Commercial Orbital Transportation Services" for the program to develop a commercial vehicle that can reach LEO. I'd never heard of it referring to "Component Off the Shelf" until I looked on acronymfinder where they say it's used in software development. I believe in your question you really mean the "commercial" variant... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ That is, I believe your question is "Were any Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) components used in the Space Shuttle?" (I ran out of space in my first comment....) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ If the application in space requires parts with an extended temperature range like industrial or military specs, COTS build from parts with commercial temperature range may not be used. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 9:01
  • $\begingroup$ This is true, but COTS can qualify for space if they pass an upscreening and extensive testing. Furthermore 1994 Wiliam Perry was "ordering the armed forces to buy products and components to the extent possible from Commercial off-the-shelf sources rather than from defense contractors" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Perry). NASA does not belong to the armed forces but NASA is obliged to use COTS aswell if appropriate so far I know. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ Also, many COTS items may just be rated for a sufficient temperature range $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 19:32

2 Answers 2


Yes, Velcro is one example. Wheat Thins are another. Did you have some specific type of component in mind?

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    $\begingroup$ This seems more like a comment section discussion. My interpretation is that he is referring to hardware used as an integral part of the Space Shuttle's function (i.e. Structure, electronics, etc.) $\endgroup$
    – Inti
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ LOL - I guess the question really is a bit ambiguous... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 6:47
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    $\begingroup$ In deed my question refers to EEEs AND non-EEEs. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ Huggies wipes for the toilet are another (at least they use them on ISS, not sure what they wiped with on shuttle...) $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 15:25


"To keep costs down, NASA has shifted to using off-the-shelf products as much as possible. So they bought dozens of I.B.M. Thinkpad computers and one Epson Stylus Color 800 printer to send into space with the shuttle fleet and the new international space station."


"There are, last time I checked, about 80 laptops deployed throughout the ISS. Most of them are Lenovo T61P laptops, but there are still a few old Lenovo A31p Thinkpads floating around."

So NASA does take off-the-shelf, the first is an old quote but state they are trying to generally to save money. The second is very recent and shows they went through with it in regards to the ISS.

  • $\begingroup$ This does give a whole new meaning to "[item]s floating around"... $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 11:05

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