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Sun, Dec 05, 2021

Commercial Space Station Design Tenders Selected

Blue Origin, Nanoracks, Grumman Chosen for the Start of "Commercial ISS" 

NASA has selected 3 winners for its Low-Earth Orbit (LOO) space station program, geared towards establishing a thriving commercial space economy. The awarded contracts amount to over $415 million, with Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman coming up as the lucky recipients of the agency's favor. 

If successful, the program would result in continuous American presence in space after the International Space Station is phased out of service. The burgeoning commercial space race has stimulated private investment into launch, delivery, and life support systems never before seen in space. At times, there's a sense of renaissance, as exploration and spacefaring comes within reach for tourism, research, and living as viable, profitable ventures. The U.S. private sector's investment in independent commercial space stations could open a tremendous new economy for use in space, with the NASA agreements laying the essential groundwork for free-flying, continuously crewed stations. 

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is glad to have the project started, as one of the first agencies in the world to begin such a program. “Building on our successful initiatives to partner with private industry to deliver cargo, and now our NASA astronauts, to the International Space Station, NASA is once again leading the way to commercialize space activities,” he said in a recent statement. "With commercial companies now providing transportation to low-Earth orbit in place, we are partnering with U.S. companies to develop the space destinations where people can visit, live, and work, enabling NASA to continue forging a path in space for the benefit of humanity while fostering commercial activity in space.”

The awards will be disbursed in a 2-phased approach as the program pivots from using the ISS as its focus towards the upcoming commercial stations. The first phse will focus on formulation and design of LOO destinations suitable for private sector and government needs, to continue through 2025. The station's shared infrastructure will aim to support the needs of U.S. and international users, tenants, and visitors, be they research, industry, government, or commercial. Sustainability through reusable launch equipment, advanced automation, and standardized equipment should eliminate waste for all involved. With set blueprints for docking ports, accommodations, and universal connections, interoperability in space will be a goal. 

Phase 2 will see NASA transition towards commercial LOO regions through certification of the commercial stations for crew member use, allowing the agency to offload the resource and time-intensive ISS from its duties. Personnel, funding, and administration will be reassigned to the Moon and Mars, vital to the continued health of the Artemis Program. 

FMI: www.nasa.gov,www.blueorigin.com, www.northropgrumman.com

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