Concept art of a “Starlab” space station
NASA awarded a trio of companies with contracts to develop private space stations, as the agency prepares for the retirement of the International Space Station.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, and Nanoracks were awarded a combined $415.6 million under NASA’s Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) project, the agency announced on Thursday.
Nanoracks won the largest individual award with an $160 million, while Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman received $130 million and $125.6 million, respectively.
Notably, private holding company Voyager Space is the majority shareholder of X.O. Markets, the parent company of Nanoracks.
NASA told CNBC earlier this year that the agency “received roughly about a dozen proposals” from a variety of companies for contracts under the project. With NASA planning to retire the International Space Station by the end of the decade, the CLD program represents an effort to turn to private companies for new space stations — with the space agency expecting to save more than $1 billion annually as a result.
Rather than build and own hardware itself, NASA has increasingly turned to public-private partnerships as a way to achieve its goals in space. The agency has had great success through this model in the past decade, with cargo and crew services provided via vehicles built by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman.
The agency does not expect to foot the entire bill for helping companies build new space stations, with NASA saying “the strategy has to work for both the government and the private sector” from an investment perspective.
A rendering of the “Orbital Reef” space station in orbit.
Blue Origin previously unveiled its plan for a space station called “Orbital Reef” – in partnership with Sierra Space, Boeing, Redwire Space and Genesis Engineering. The companies plan to have the baseline configuration of Orbital Reef operational by 2027, which it will build into the next decade.
Nanoracks also announced plans to build a station called “Starlab” – partnering with Voyager and Lockheed Martin – and aims to be operational in orbit by 2027.
Northrop Grumman is building its own private space station, which the company says will initially support 4 astronauts and then expand to an 8 person crew.
Notably, Axiom Space – a company which already won a $140 million NASA contract to attach a habitable module to the ISS – did not bid for the CLD project. In a statement, Axiom said it “warmly congratulates the winners and looks forward to the shared vision of a thriving commercial network in LEO.”