NASA has inked agreements with three companies to design space stations that could eventually replace the International Space Station. NASA announced earlier this month that Blue Origin, Nanoracks LLC, and Northrop Grumman would receive over $400 million in government funding.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that NASA “is working with U.S. companies to develop space destinations where people can visit, live, and work, allowing NASA to continue forging a path in space for humanity while encouraging commercial space activity.”
The funding is part of a plan to transition away from the ISS and commercial space stations. The ISS is currently set to remain operational through at least 2024, but it’s several decades old and is costly to keep running. NASA wants to save money by becoming a customer of private stations, allowing the agency to focus on other projects like its Artemis missions.
Blue Origin, which is receiving $130 million, is partnering with Sierra Space to work on its Orbital Reef station, a “mixed-use space business park” nearly as large as the ISS that the company announced plans for in October. Blue Origin claims Orbital Reef will be ready for operation in the second half of this decade.
Nanoracks LLC, awarded $160 million, is working on a Starlab station in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. Designed for four astronauts, Starlab is slated to have labs for biology, plant habitation, and physical science and materials research. In October, the three companies announced they plan to launch Starlab in 2027.
Northrop Grumman, receiving $125.6 million, is working with Dynetics and other unannounced partners to develop a modular space station. Northrup currently manufactures the Cygnus spacecraft, which carries cargo to the ISS.
Plans for each station include various interfaces, such as multiple docking ports, enabling future expansion and possibly tourism. The funding agreements are part of NASA’s effort to create a robust, American-led commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.