The three space station projects that have won NASA support
WITH the International Space Station probably in its last years, the US space agency has announced that it is supporting three projects for new private space stations in a bid to maintain an American presence in low Earth orbit.
Here, NASA’s goal is to encourage initiatives that combine uses such as scientific research and space tourism. The first project is from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company, which can already boast of having made the first manned flights for “space tourists” via its New Shepard launcher.
Blue Origin, associated with Sierra Space, is presenting Orbital Reef, a space station destined for commercial use from the second half of this decade. Boeing is one of the partners in this very ambitious project.
The station has been designed to provide all the necessary infrastructure for all types of US and international human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit. It provides various accommodation solutions and vehicle docking ports.
Another project hails from Nanoracks, in association with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. It is called Starlab and its launch is planned for 2027, in a single flight. The project is a commercial space station with a permanent crew, responsible for conducting advanced research in biology and physical sciences.
This relatively compact station is designed to accommodate four astronauts.
These research activities will not prevent the development of commercial activities in parallel, given that the station will be able to expand with time and demand. Finally, the third project selected by NASA is that of Northrop Grumman, in the form of a modular station for commercial use. Its design is based on flight-proven elements, like its Cygnus spacecraft that delivers cargo to the International Space Station.
The future station’s capabilities are expected to be varied, from science to industrial experimentation to tourism. Its multiple docking ports will allow for future expansion of the station, again depending on demand.
In supporting these projects, NASA’s objective is to maintain an American presence in space when the International Space Station comes to the end of its service. Indeed, dismantling could begin as soon as 2025. And this is only one of NASA’s many upcoming programs, which include sending astronauts back to the Moon as part of its Artemis mission.