NASA Reveals the Companies That Could Build Low-Earth Orbit ‘Commercial Destinations’ – IGN

Three companies have signed agreements with NASA to design space stations that could eventually replace the International Space Station. Blue Origin, Nanoracks LLC, and Northrop Grumman will receive over $400 million in government funding, according to NASA’s announcement early this month.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in the announcement that NASA is, “partnering with U.S. companies to develop the space destinations where people can visit, live, and work, enabling NASA to continue forging a path in space for the benefit of humanity while fostering commercial activity in space.”

The funding is part of a plan to transition away from the ISS and toward commercial space stations. The ISS is currently set to remain operational through at least 2024, but it’s several decades old and is costly to keep running. NASA wants to save money by becoming a customer of private stations, allowing the agency to focus on other projects like its Artemis missions.

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Blue Origin, which is receiving $130 million, is partnering with Sierra Space to work on its Orbital Reef station, a “mixed-use space business park” nearly as large as the ISS that the company announced plans for in October. Blue Origin claims Orbital Reef will be ready for operation in the second half of this decade.

Nanoracks LLC, awarded $160 million, is working on a Starlab station in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. Designed for four astronauts, Starlab is slated to have labs for biology, plant habitation, and physical science and materials research. In October, the three companies announced they plan to launch Starlab in 2027.

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Northrop Grumman, receiving $125.6 million, is working with Dynetics and other unannounced partners to develop a modular space station. Northrup currently manufactures the Cygnus spacecraft, which carries cargo to the ISS.

The plans for each station include various interfaces, like multiple docking ports, that could enable future expansion and possibly tourism. NASA says the funding agreements are part of its efforts, “to enable a robust, American-led commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.”

For more of the latest news from NASA, check out our piece about astronauts aboard the ISS making tacos, and read our article on all the NASA easter eggs we could find on the past rovers.

Main image credit: Northrop Grumman

Kait Sanchez is a freelance writer for IGN. Find them on Twitter @crisp_red.

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