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NASA Evaluates Private Space Station Proposal for ISS Replacement

Illustration by an artist of the Axium module attached to the International Space Station.

Axiom space

NASA plans to abolish the International Space Station by the end of the last decade, so US space agencies are looking to private companies to build new space stations in orbit. The result is an estimated savings of over $ 1 billion annually.

NASA announced the Commercial LEO Destination Project earlier this year and planned to give up to four companies a total of $ 400 million in contracts to begin developing private space stations.

At NASA’s request, its director of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAlister, told CNBC that he had “received approximately 12 proposals” from various companies regarding contracts under the project.

“We have received a very strong response from the industry to the announcement of a free commercial flyer proposal that goes directly to the orbit,” McAllister said. “I can’t remember how many suggestions I had last time. [in response] NS [human spaceflight] Contract announcement “

The ISS is more than 20 years old and costs about $ 4 billion annually to operate NASA. The space station is approved for operation until the end of 2024, and its lifespan may be extended until the end of 2028. However, NASA says, “I want to be one of many users, not a major sponsor or infrastructure supporter.” For low earth orbit stations.

“This strong industry reaction shows that our plan to abolish the International Space Station and move to commercial space destinations later in the decade is a viable and powerful plan.” Said McAllister.

“We are making concrete progress in developing destinations for commercial spaces where people can work, play and live,” McAllister added.

NASA is currently evaluating the proposal, saying McAllister wants to announce the winner of the deal “by the end of the year,” but he said he was “promoting early.” McAllister said the 12 or so proposals came from “diverse corporate groups” ranging from start-ups to large aerospace companies. When NASA hosted an industry briefing for company officials in March, stakeholders included the following well-known names: Of Elon Musk SpaceX, Jeff Bezos‘Blue Origin, Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin.

In addition to cost savings, McAllister emphasized that NASA would not need something as big and capable as the ISS would move forward. He said private space stations “could be very large, but NASA will only pay for what we need.”

“We need to get our size right [low Earth orbit] Infrastructure “.

Public-private model

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavor was seen docked with the International Space Station on July 1, 2020.

NASA

NASA is increasingly looking at public-private partnerships as a way to reach its goals in space, rather than building and owning the hardware itself. The agency has had great success through this model over the last decade, delivering cargo and crew services via vehicles manufactured by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman.

NASA last year with just a commercial crew program Saved agencies between $ 20 billion and $ 30 billionWhile funding the development of two spacecraft, not just one.in the meantime Boeing Not yet completed development testing – later suffering from long-term setbacks The launch of the first unmanned spacecraft Starliner Capsule in December 2019 failed due to multiple anomalies. – SpaceX Crew Dragon Spacecraft Flew 10 astronauts to the ISS for NASA and put four private astronauts into orbit last week..

From an investment perspective, McAllister said, “Strategy must work for both the government and the private sector,” and government agencies will pay the full cost to help companies build new space stations. I don’t expect to do it.

“We need to find that sweet spot so that we can both benefit in terms of sharing resources, sharing risks and sharing responsibilities,” said McAllister.

“It was part of the first announcement of a proposal we expected to share costs,” he added. “We don’t expect to pay for the entire commercial destination in the future. I don’t think this is appropriate as companies will be able to own their intellectual property and sell its features to customers other than NASA. . “

The Commercial Crew Program serves as a guide for commercial LEO destination projects. Initially, NASA awarded five commercial crew contracts and then steadily narrowed it down to two through subsequent awards.

“It makes a lot of sense to have a competitor so early,” McAllister said.

NASA also recognizes strong corporate interest as a signal that the US space industry is “technically and financially capable of building commercial space destinations.”

“Then you can take advantage of that savings, which is expected to be on the order of $ 1 billion to $ 1 billion. [annually] – For our deep space missions and aspirations, “he said.

I’m already using Axiom

Axiom EarthObservatory module window seen during manufacturing.

Axiom space

NASA has already begun to fund the ambitions of one company under another related contract, $ 140 Million Axiom Space to Build Modules It connects to the ISS. When the ISS retires, Axiom plans to remove the module and turn it into a free-flying space station.

Axiom has begun manufacturing these modules, including the huge windows that make up the observatory.The company Launch the first habitable module and connect to the ISS by 2024Under the assumption that Congress will provide the necessary funding to extend the life of the space station to 2028.

“These aren’t ready, so we need the ISS extension. [independent] Destination by 2024. “

The House of Representatives Science, Space and Technical Committee hosted a hearing on the extension of the ISS on Tuesday, NASA ISS Director Robin Gatens, NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins, Nanoracks CEO Jeff Manber..

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NASA Evaluates Private Space Station Proposal for ISS Replacement

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