NASA Awards Blue Origin, Nanoracks, Northrop Grumman Over $400M In Contracts To Avoid Space Station Gap

Just two days after officially (and quietly) confirming that it intends to replace the International Space Station with a commercial station by 2030, NASA has awarded over $400 million in agreements to three companies to further develop private station plans. TechCrunch reports: The three companies, which received the awards under the agency's Commercial low Earth orbit (LEO) Destinations program, are: Nanoracks for $160 million; Blue Origin for $130 million; and Northrop Grumman for $125.6 million. NASA received eleven proposals in total, director of commercial spaceflight Phil McAlister said Thursday. He added that of the three chosen proposals, there was a diversity of technical concepts and a variety of logistical and launch vehicle options offered. "This diversity not only enhances the likelihood of success of NASA strategy, but it also leads to a high degree of innovation, which is critical in most commercial space endeavors," he said. The three companies have already released a handful of details about their proposals. Blue Origin is calling its station concept "Orbital Reef," and it is designing it with Boeing, Sierra Space and others. The team said it wants to launch the station in 2027. Meanwhile, Nanoracks is calling its station, which is being developed with its parent company Voyager Space and aerospace prime Lockheed Martin, "Starlab." While Northrop didn't give its station proposal a flashy name, it's working with Dynetics to deliver a modular design based around its Cygnus spacecraft. These substantial awards mark the first phase of a two-phase process as NASA seeks to ensure that there will be no gap between the retirement of the ISS and the introduction of a new station. NASA has repeatedly stressed, both to Congress and more recently in a report by the Office of Inspector General, that the overall success of the development of a thriving economy in LEO is dependent upon avoiding this gap. "If there is no habitable commercial destination in low Earth orbit after the ISS is decommissioned, NASA will be unable to conduct microgravity health research and technology demonstrations needed for long-duration human exploration missions to the Moon and Mars, significantly increasing the risk of -- or delaying -- those missions," the agency said in the report.

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