NASA has hired a trio of companies to develop private space stations while the agency prepares to decommission the International Space Station.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and Nanoracks received a combined $ 415.6 million as part of NASA’s Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) project, the agency said on Thursday.
Nanoracks won the largest single award at $ 160 million, while Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman won $ 130 million and $ 125.6 million, respectively.
In particular, the private holding company Voyager Space is the majority shareholder in XO Markets, the parent company of Nanoracks.
NASA told CNBC earlier this year that the agency had received “about a dozen suggestions” for contracts under the project from a variety of companies. With NASA planning to decommission the International Space Station by the end of the decade, the CLD program represents an attempt to turn to private companies for new space stations – with the space agency expecting to save more than $ 1 billion annually.
Rather than building and owning hardware itself, NASA has increasingly turned to public-private partnerships to help achieve its goals in space. The agency has had great success with this model over the past decade, providing cargo and crew services via vehicles built by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman.
The agency doesn’t expect to pay the entire bill for helping businesses build new space stations, as NASA says “the strategy must work for both the government and the private sector from an investment perspective.”
Blue Origin previously announced 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 Orbital Reef’s base configuration operational by 2027 and expand over the next decade.
Nanoracks also announced plans to build a station called Starlab – in partnership with Voyager and Lockheed Martin – and intends to be operational in orbit by 2027.
Northrop Grumman is building its own private space station, which, according to the company, will initially support 4 astronauts and then expand to a crew of 8.
Notably, Axiom Space – a company that has already won a $ 140 million NASA contract to attach a habitable module to the ISS – has not made an offer 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.”