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NASA Revamps Contracts with Blue Origin and Starlab for LEO Station Projects Post-ISS Era
A rendering of a top view of the Orbital Reef station.
NASA Revamps Contracts with Blue Origin and Starlab for LEO Station Projects Post-ISS Era
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Jan 08, 2024

NASA has recently updated its agreements with two prominent commercial space station partners, marking a significant step in the development of low Earth orbit (LEO) destinations. This move is pivotal as the agency prepares for the retirement of the International Space Station (ISS) in 2030 and transitions to a new era of commercial space stations.

Phil McAlister, the director of commercial space at NASA Headquarters, highlighted the importance of these revisions. "These new milestones will be of immense value to NASA and the partners, and will help ensure we have a smooth transition from the International Space Station to commercial destinations," he stated. McAlister emphasized that the updated milestones focus on critical technology and risk reduction aspects of the partners' designs, including additional hardware testing which is vital in any spaceflight development.

This development comes as a result of the integration of efforts between Northrop Grumman and Starlab partners. NASA has reallocated funds, including those from Northrop Grumman's withdrawn agreement, to enhance the existing contracts with Blue Origin and Starlab.

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

Voyager Space's Exploration Segment, including Nanoracks, will get an additional $57.5 million for Starlab, increasing their total award to $217.5 million. This funding will support the development of Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft, upgrading it from berthing to docking capabilities, better aligning with Starlab and commercial market needs. The additional funding will also enhance Starlab's development milestones, focusing on operations, assembly, integration, and testing, along with a rendezvous and proximity operations demonstration.

These agreements are part of NASA's broader strategy to foster a commercial low Earth orbit economy. Blue Origin and Voyager Space/Nanoracks hold Space Act Agreements with NASA, while another funded partner, Axiom Space, has a firm-fixed price contract. NASA is currently in negotiations to add more content to Axiom Space's contract, with details pending.

Angela Hart, manager of the Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center, expressed her confidence in the dedication of their partners. "The agency is committed to continuing to work with industry with the goal of having one or more stations in orbit to ensure competition, lower costs, and meet the demand of NASA and other customers," Hart said.

NASA's support extends beyond these funded partners. It also includes several other partners with unfunded agreements through the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities-2 project. The agency's strategy involves the design and development of multiple commercial space stations, followed by the procurement of services from one or more companies. NASA aims to be one of many customers for these LEO destinations.

The agency recently issued a request for information from the industry, seeking input on its requirements for end-to-end low Earth orbit space station services. This strategy is not only aimed at ensuring a continued presence in LEO but also at enabling NASA to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon in preparation for future Mars expeditions. The 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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NASA's Commercial Partners Continue Progress on New Space Stations
Washington DC (SPX) Dec 13, 2023
Three NASA-funded commercial space station partners are on track for the design and development of their orbital destinations and the transition of agency's low Earth orbit needs from the International Space Station. "We are ending the year on a high note with multiple important milestones being completed by our partners," said Angela Hart, manager of the Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Over the past few months, we have been able to dig into ... read more

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