NASA has awarded a total of $415 million to three businesses with a brief to come up with a design of a commercial space station.
Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is one of the chosen few ($130 million) along with Nanoracks ($160 million) and Northrop Grumman ($125.6 million).
The agreements are part of NASA’s efforts to enable a “robust, American-led commercial economy in low-Earth orbit” (LEO), NASA said, maintaining an “uninterrupted U.S. presence in low-Earth orbit by transitioning from the International Space Station to other platforms”.
NASA says the awards are the first in a two-phase approach to ensure a seamless transition of activity from the existing International Space Station to commercial destinations. During this first phase, private industry, in coordination with NASA, will formulate and design commercial low-Earth orbit destination capabilities suitable for potential government and private sector needs. The first phase is expected to continue through 2025.
Blue Origin and Sierra Space are already working in partnership to develop Orbital Reef, which is supposed to start operating in the second half of this decade. Nanoracks’ commercial LEO station is called Starlab and is developed in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin; it is targeted for launch in 2027.
In addition to these new awards NASA selected Axiom Space in January 2020 to design and develop commercial modules to attach to the station.