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NASA funds three companies to develop commercial space stations

NASA has announced the selection of three U.S. companies to receive government funding for develop private space stations Thursday. From a set of 11 proposals, NASA selected Blue Origin, Nanoracks LLC, and Northrop Grumman to receive more than $ 400 million in federal funds under three separate space law agreements.

NASA began seeking proposals in July for its Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development (CLD) program, which aims to support the development of commercial space stations. This is part of a larger plan to eventually replace the International Space Station (ISS) with commercial space stations. With this model, NASA would be a client of the commercial space industry, saving costs and focusing on basic research and exploration.

Blue Origin is expected to receive $ 130 million to develop Orbital Reef, a concept for a free-flight space station that the company first announced in October. Orbital Reef is developed in partnership with Sierra Space, manufacturer of the winged space plane Dream Chaser. Blue Origin says the station will be operational by the second half of the decade.

Nanoracks LLC receives $ 160 million for its Starlab station concept. Also announced in October, Starlab is a collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. Designed to accommodate up to four astronauts and conduct advanced research in biology, materials science and more, Starlab is slated to launch in 2027 on a single flight, according to the NASA press release.

Northrop Grumman’s $ 125.6 million prize will give him the opportunity to develop a commercial space station using existing technologies like his Cygnus spacecraft, which currently carries cargo to the ISS. Northrop is working with Dynetics on their modular space station concept, with other partners to be announced in the future.

Axiom Space, a Houston-based company that was the first to receive funding in January 2020 to develop its commercial module to add to the ISS, said in a report on Twitter that he did not bid to receive any of the CLD awards.

According to NASA, the rewards are the first part of a two-phase approach to ensure a smooth transition to commercial LEO stations.

The first phase, which is expected to run until 2025, will allow grant recipients to create a plan and designs that meet the needs of the private sector and government. In the second phase, NASA wants to certify these stations for human astronauts and ultimately start using them.

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