NASA renews contracts with Starlab, looks blue for post-ISS era Leo station plans

NASA renews contracts with StarLab and looks blue for post-ISS-era Leo station plans

By Clarence Oxford

Los Angeles CA (SPX) January 08, 2024

NASA recently renewed its contracts with two major commercial space station partners, marking a significant step forward in the development of low Earth orbit (LEO) targets. The move is important as the agency prepares for the retirement of the International Space Station (ISS) in 2030 and transition to a new era of commercial space stations.

Phil McAlister, commercial space director at NASA Headquarters, highlighted the importance of these revisions. „These new milestones will be of tremendous value to NASA and partners, and will help ensure a smooth transition from the International Space Station to commercial space,” he said. The enhanced milestones focus on critical technology and risk mitigation aspects of the partners' designs, including additional hardware testing, which is critical in any spaceflight development.

The development comes as a result of the integration of efforts between Northrop Grumman and Starlab Partners. NASA has reallocated funds, including Northrop Grumman's withdrawn contract, to upgrade existing contracts with Blue Origin and StarLab.

Seattle-based Blue Origin is set to receive an additional $42 million for its Orbital Reef station, bringing the total award to $172 million. These funds will support various subsystem design reviews, technology maturation activities, and critical testing in environmental control and life support systems, including water filtration and atmospheric monitoring.

Voyager Space's exploration arm, including Nanorocks, will receive an additional $57.5 million to Starlab, bringing their total award to $217.5 million. The funding will support the development of Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft, upgrading it from berthing to docking capabilities, better aligned with Starlab and commercial market needs. The additional funding will advance StarLab's development milestones, focusing on operations, assembly, integration and testing, and demonstration of rendezvous and proximity operations.

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The contracts are part of NASA's broader strategy Blue Origin and Voyager Space/NanoRocks hold space law contracts with NASA, while another funded partner, Axiom Space, has a firm-fixed-price contract. NASA is currently in negotiations to add additional content to Axiom Space's contract, details pending.

Angela Hart, manager of the Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center, expressed her confidence in the commitment of their partners. „The company is committed to continuing to work with industry with the goal of being competitive, low costs and having one or more stations in orbit to meet the needs of NASA and other customers,” Hart said.

NASA's support goes beyond these funded partners. It also includes several partners with unfunded contracts through the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities-2 program. The agency's strategy involves the design and development of several commercial space stations, followed by the purchase of services from one or more companies. NASA should be one of the many customers for these LEO destinations.

The company recently released Request for information It is seeking input from industry on its requirements for end-to-end low-Earth orbit space station services. This strategy not only aims to ensure continued presence in LEO, but also aims to keep NASA focused on Artemis missions to the Moon in preparation for future Mars missions. Commercial LEO initiatives will also serve as a training and proving ground for these deep space missions.

Related links

Commercial Low Earth Orbit Strategy at NASA

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