NASA signed an agreement with three US companies that will develop designs for commercial space stations and other commercial destinations in space that will replace the International Space Station (ISS) in the future and will be used by both government and private customers, NASA reported on its website.
By switching to other platforms, NASA plans to maintain the US presence in low Earth orbit. The new agreements should stimulate new independent commercial space stations' development.
In total, NASA allocates $415.6 million for these purposes:
- Blue Origin will receive $130 million.
- Nanoracks LLC will receive $160 million.
- Northrop Grumman will receive $125.6 million.
In 2019, NASA announced the Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) project to begin development on commercial space stations in low Earth orbit.
The plan will be implemented in two stages:
- During the first one, NASA will work with the private companies to develop low-orbit space stations suitable for the private sector and government needs. This phase is expected to last until 2025.
- During the second one, NASA will let its astronauts use the space stations. The agency will then ultimately purchase services from destination providers.
Blue Origin, together with Sierra Space, will develop Orbital Reef, a commercial space station in low Earth orbit, which should become operational in the second half of this decade.
Nanoracks is developing a low-orbit space station called Starlab in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. It is slated to launch in 2027.
Northrop Grumman will use the Cygnus spacecraft, which provides cargo delivery to the ISS, to create a base module for advanced capabilities including tourism, scientific research, industrial experiments, etc.