NASA has some good news for individual aerospace companies that will design and develop habitable spacecraft. The space agency is offering private space stations up to $400 million to build low-Earth-orbit (LEO).

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IN SPACE - MAY 13: In this handout from NASA, the Hubble Space Telescope is grappled to Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-125 by the shuttle's Canadian-built remote manipulator system May 13, 2009, in Space. The space shuttle Atlantis' mission is to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope in order to extend its working life.

NASA expects that the CLD initiative will serve as a bridge to a future without the 22-year-old space station, Futurism said. Private LEO habitats will be in operation until researchers abandon the ISS entirely.

According to CNBC, the organization unveiled the Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) initiative last week. NASA expects to grant up to $400 million in total to up to four firms in the fourth quarter of 2021 as part of the program to build habitable private space stations.

What Is NASA Trying to Aim?

SlashGear said NASA aims to expand on the Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew projects' performance with the new CLD initiative. The Commercial Crew service is estimated to have saved NASA between $20 and $30 billion. Starting in Q4 2021, awards will be made under the CLD program for private entities to begin developing their space stations.

According to NASA LEO chief Phil McAllister, Cargo transportation, crew transportation, and destinations are the three principal operations in low earth orbit. NASA wants private businesses to perform destination transportation as well as freight and crew transportation.

McAllister said if NASA had absolute control of all three of those operations, human interests in low Earth orbit would still be restricted by NASA's budget.

Increasing the number of individuals in low Earth orbit and bringing in private businesses opens the door. The CLD program's most significant catalyst is NASA's possible cost savings as a private space station customer rather than an owner and operator. NASA spends around $4 billion a year to operate the International Space Station.

The cost of developing and building the ISS was estimated to be about $150 billion. NASA pays the bulk of the expense with donations from Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. NASA is now promoting the CLD software as the ISS ages despite being in space since the 1990s.

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The International Space Station, which has been in orbit for more than 22 years, is one of the driving forces behind this mission. NASA anticipates its imminent "retirement" as it becomes older.

Although the ISS is a fantastic device, McAllister believes the space agency will eventually phase out the said station. He cautioned that "an unrecoverable anomaly" could arise at any point on the space station.

"The ISS is an amazing system, but, unfortunately, it won't last forever," said NASA commercial LEO director Phil McAlister in a briefing last week.

Who Wants To Join Replacing The Space Modules?

CNBC said NASA awarded Axiom Space, a spaceflight specialist, a $140 million contract to develop the International Space Station modules. Axiom plans to remove the ISS's modules and upgrade it into a free-flying space station until it retires.

In a statement to CNBC, an Axiom spokesperson said that the organization broadly supports NASA's concept of a multifaceted economy in LEO.

"We are raising private funding to design and develop our world's-first commercial destination to demonstrate that truly commercial leadership can advance the LEO economy," Axiom said.

"Constructing Axiom Station initially as an extension of the International Space Station will expand the work that can be done on-station in the near-term and best enable a timely and seamless transition when the ISS reaches the end of its life," it added.

NASA also shared a list of private companies, these include:

  • Airbus U.S.;
  • Blue Origin;
  • Boeing;
  • Collins Aerospace;
  • Firefly Aerospace;
  • General Dynamics;
  • ispace;
  • Lockheed Martin;
  • Moog;
  • Nanoracks;
  • Northrop Grumman;
  • Raytheon;
  • Redwire Space;
  • RUAG Space;
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation;
  • SpaceX;
  • Virgin Galactic;
  • Virgin Orbit; and
  • Voyager Space Holding

One of these firms has already confirmed that it will shortly disclose its ambitions for a self-flying space station. Sierra Nevada Company, or SNC, has announced that on March 31, it will hold a virtual press conference to unleash the configuration of the "SNC Space Station."

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