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NASA wants companies to develop and build new space stations, with up to $400 million up for grabs


SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour seen docked with the International Space Station on July 1, 2020.

NASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration final 12 months marked 20 years of astronauts constantly onboard the International Space Station. But, because the floating analysis laboratory ages, the space company is popping to non-public companies to build and deploy new free flying habitats in low Earth orbit.

NASA this previous week unveiled the Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) challenge, with plans to award up to $400 million in whole to as many as 4 companies within the fourth quarter of 2021 to start improvement on non-public space stations.

The company is in search of to replicate the success of its Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew applications. Those applications noticed three companies take over for NASA as its technique of sending cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA business LEO director Phil McAlister mentioned he thinks in regards to the area of low Earth orbit as having three predominant actions: “Cargo transportation, crew transportation, and destinations.” NASA has transferred over accountability of the previous two actions to non-public companies, with the company paying SpaceX and Northrop Grumman to ship cargo spacecraft to the ISS, in addition to SpaceX and Boeing to launch astronauts. McAlister highlighted that beforehand, NASA had full possession of all three actions.

“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 mentioned 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.”

NASA is opening up the International Space Station for vacationers with the primary mission as early as 2020.

Stocktrek Images | Getty Images

The potential value financial savings of NASA being a consumer of space stations, quite than an proprietor and operator, is a key motivator for the CLD program. The International Space Station prices NASA about $four billion a 12 months to function. Moreover, the ISS value a complete of $150 billion to develop and build, with NASA choosing up most of that invoice whereas Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada every contributed.

NASA final 12 months estimated that the Commercial Crew program alone is estimated to have saved the company between $20 billion and $30 billion, whereas funding improvement of two spacecraft, quite than only one. While Boeing has but to full improvement testing, struggling an prolonged setback after its first uncrewed Starliner capsule launch in December 2019 failed due to a number of anomalies, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is now flying NASA astronauts operationally.

Another motivator for starting the CLD program is the ISS’s getting older {hardware}, as a lot of the space station’s core buildings have been manufactured within the 1990s and the ultimate pressurized construction was added in 2011. Last 12 months Russian cosmonauts labored to patch a small air leak in a space station module.

“The ISS is an amazing system but, unfortunately, it won’t last forever,” McAlister mentioned. “It could experience an unrecoverable anomaly at any time.”

NASA sees the CLD program as a approach to have a number of companies develop and build new habitats within the subsequent few years, in order that the company has an overlap interval earlier than the ISS is retired. McAlister famous that, separate from the CLD program, NASA awarded spaceflight specialist Axiom Space with an $140 million contract to build modules to add to the ISS. When the ISS retires, Axiom plans to detach its modules and flip it right into a free-flying space station.

“We’re making progress there and very pleased about that,” McAlister mentioned. “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.”

An Axiom spokesperson, in a press release to CNBC, mentioned that the corporate “broadly supports NASA’s vision of a multifaceted economy in LEO.”

“We are raising private funding to design and develop our world’s-first commercial destination to demonstrate that truly commercial leadership can advance the LEO economy. Constructing Axiom Station initially as an extension of the International Space Station will expand the work that can be done on-station in the near-term and best enable a timely and seamless transition when the ISS reaches the end of its life,” Axiom mentioned.

A NASA listing of organizations registered for the briefing revealed all kinds of aerospace and space companies, together with: Airbus U.S., Blue Origin, Boeing, Collins Aerospace, Firefly Aerospace, General Dynamics, ispace, Lockheed Martin, Moog, Nanoracks, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Redwire Space, RUAG Space, Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit, Voyager Space Holdings, and York Space Systems.

Already, a kind of companies introduced that it’s going to quickly unveil its plan for a free-flying space station. Sierra Nevada Corporation, or SNC, mentioned it’ll host a digital press convention on March 31 to reveal the design of the “SNC Space Station.”

NASA will launch a ultimate announcement for CLD proposals in May, with the primary section of funding awards anticipated between October and December. NASA’s Johnson Space Center will handle the CLD program by its business LEO improvement workplace.



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