NASA Is Helping Private Companies Build More Space Stations

NASA has unveiled a new project aimed to develop new space stations with private companies. Last [...]

NASA has unveiled a new project aimed to develop new space stations with private companies. Last week, NASA unveiled the Commercial LEO Destinations project and plans to award up to $400 million total to up to four companies to develop private space stations.

According to CNBC, the project is intended to replicate the success of the agency's Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs that saw three private companies send cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. SpaceX and Northrop Grumman are paid by NASA to send cargo spacecraft to the ISS and SpaceX and Boeing are paid to launch astronauts. By opening up to private companies, NASA commercial LEO director Phil McAlister said it will allow for more people to be in low Earth orbit.

"If it were to always remain that way, our aspirations in low Earth orbit would always be limited by the size of NASA's budget," McAlister said in a briefing on Tuesday. "By bringing the private sector into these sections and into these areas, as suppliers and users, you expand the pot, and you have more people in low Earth orbit."

There's also the age of the ISS that is a motivating factor for the CLD program, with much of the space station's core structure dating back to the 1990s. The agency intends for the CLD program to offer a bit of overlap in terms of new habitats in the next few years before the ISS is retired. Separate from the CLD program, Axiom Space has been awarded a $140 million contract to build modules to add to the ISS that, when the ISS is retired, will detach and turn into a free-flying space station of its own.

"The ISS is an amazing system but, unfortunately, it won't last forever," McAlister said. "It could experience an unrecoverable anomaly at any time."

"We're making progress there and very pleased about that," McAlister said. "We would like to have competition in the supply area, which is why we're doing [CLD]. It's always been part of our plan to both attach modules as well as have free fliers."

A final announcement for CLD proposals will be released by NASA in May. The first phase of funding is expected between October and December.