NASA is preparing to grant up to $ 400 million (around 340 million euros) to companies that want to build their own space station. The agency has relied on the International Space Station (ISS) for 20 years, but it won’t last forever. NASA plans to retire the ISS by the end of the decade, emptying it and sending it into Earth’s atmosphere to burn.
NASA does not want to build a new space station itself. Instead, it turns to private companies, offering them contracts to build their own stations under a program called Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Destinations. The program has “received about a dozen submissions,” Phil McAlister, NASA director of commercial spaceflight, told CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz. NASA plans to select two to four of those proposals by the end of the year and distribute up to $ 400 million in contracts among the winners, according to CNBC.
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“We have received an incredibly strong response from the industry to our announcement of proposals for commercial and free flights that go directly to orbit,” Phil McAlister told CNBC. “I don’t remember the last time we received so many offers [en réponse] to a contract announcement [de vols spatiaux habités].”
Operating the ISS currently costs NASA around $ 4 billion per year (€ 3.4 billion). Buying facilities at larger stations operated by private companies could save the agency more than $ 1 billion a year, McAlister said.
NASA declined to name the companies that submitted the proposals, citing a period of “blackout” while it assesses them. But more than 50 entities expressed interest when the program was announced, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing and Airbus,
. Phil McAlister said the current proposals come from a mix of old space flight companies and start-ups. “We are making tangible progress in developing commercial space destinations where people can work, play and live,” he told CNBC.
As a reminder, these are the companies that expressed interest in CLD, and McAlister said the proposals reflected a similarly "diverse group" ranging from startups to established aerospace contractors:https://t.co/nidT8EXOKK pic.twitter.com/QwP0cAyHRo— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) September 20, 2021
NASA used a similar competition to encourage commercial spacecraft
NASA took a similar approach when it sought to replace space shuttles: It offered funding to companies to develop and build new spacecraft. The agency’s commercial crew program chose SpaceX and Boeing from a group of proposals and funded each of them to develop new spacecraft suitable for humans. Last year, NASA estimated that this program would save it between 20 and 30 billion dollars (between 17 and 25 billion euros).
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is the product of this program, and it now regularly transports astronauts to and from the ISS for NASA. It also just flew its first tourists on a mission that didn’t involve NASA, other than using its launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX has planned another private mission in January, during which it must transport four people to the ISS for the company Axiom Space.
Private companies have also developed the vehicles that transport cargo to the ISS for NASA. As it does with all of these spacecraft, NASA is hoping to be one of the many customers paying for space on future space stations. This is part of the reason why its contracts will not fully finance their development. “In the future, we do not plan to pay for all commercial destinations. We believe this is not appropriate, as companies will own the intellectual property and may sell this capability to customers other than NASA. “Phil McAlister told CNBC.
New space stations are already under development. China launched the first piece of its own space station earlier this year and just completed its first three-month astronaut mission last week. NASA, meanwhile, has already granted $ 140 million to Axiom Space (119 million euros) to fly to the ISS modules that will one day detach to become their own space station. Axiom intends to launch its first module in 2024.
Version originale : Morgan McFall-Johnsen/Insider
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