NASA will subsidise the development of commercial space stations by three American companies.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has selected a company to build a private space station. NASA has selected three American companies to win federal funding to build commercial space stations. From a pool of around 11 bids, NASA chose Blue Origin, Nanoracks LLC, and Northrop Grumman. These three will get roughly $400 million in federal funds through three separate Space Act Agreements.

Earlier this month, NASA supposedly began soliciting applications for its Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development (CLD) program. This program attempts to promote commercial space station building as part of a bigger plan to eventually replace the International Space Station (ISS) with commercial space stations. As part of this strategy, NASA would become a customer of the commercial space industry, allowing it to save money while focusing on research and exploration.


The Orbital Reef, a free-flying space station design that Blue Origin first presented in October, has been given around $130 million for development. Orbital Reef is a project that Sierra Space, the firm that designed the winged spaceplane Dream Chaser, is working on. According to Blue Origin, the Orbital Reef station will be completely operational by the second half of this decade. Blue Origin and I have had a rocky relationship.

Nanoracks LLC is the second company NASA has identified as a possible federal aid recipient. The company will receive roughly $160 million for its Starlab station project. A number of issues affected the project's design, including the necessity to house up to four astronauts and conduct advanced biology and materials science research, among others. The project will be a collaboration between Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. The Starlab experiment will be launched in a single journey in 2027, according to a NASA press release.
 

Northrop Grumman is the third business on NASA's list, having been awarded $125.6 million to build a commercial space station based on existing technology such as its Cygnus spacecraft, which currently transfers supplies to the International Space Station. Rather than working alone on a modular space station concept, Northrop Grumman is teaming with Dynetics. Other alliances that Northrop Grumman will build to bring the concept to fruition will be announced soon.

Axiom Space, a Houston-based company that secured NASA funding to build a commercial module that would be deployed on the International Space Station as soon as January 2020, declared on Twitter that it would not be submitting a bid for the CLD rewards. The grants are split into two phases, according to NASA, the first of which will ensure a smooth transition to private LEO stations. The first phase, which is expected to extend until 2025, would give grant applicants the opportunity to create long-term plans and designs that serve both commercial and public sector demands. In the second phase, NASA wants to certify these stations for human astronauts to use, and then begin using them.

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