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NASA private space station contracts: Blue Origin, Nanoracks, Northrop

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Concept art for a space station called “Starlab”.

Nanoracks

NASA granted contracts to three private companies in order to build space stations as part of its preparations for retirement.

Jeff Bezos’Blue Origin Northrop GrummanThe agency announced that Nanoracks and e-commerce company Nanoracks received a total of $415.6 millions under NASA’s Commercial LEO Destinations project (CLD).

Nanoracks was awarded the $160 million largest single award, Blue Origin received $130 million, and Northrop Grumman $125.6 million.

Voyager Space, a private holding company, is the largest shareholder in X.O. Markets, parent company to Nanoracks.

NASA told CNBC earlier this year that the agency “received roughly about a dozen proposals”A variety of companies can be contracted under this 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.

NASA is increasingly turning to public-private partnerships to help it achieve its space goals. In the past decade, NASA has enjoyed great success with this model. SpaceX and Northrop Grumman have provided cargo and crew services via their vehicles.

NASA stated that the agency will not be paying the full cost of helping private companies to build space stations.

An illustration of the orbital station “Orbital reef”

Blue Origin

Blue Origin previously unveiled its plan for a space station called “Orbital Reef” – in partnership with Sierra Space, BoeingRedwire Space and Genesis Engineering. These companies expect to be able to operate Orbital Reef in its baseline configuration by 2027. It will continue expanding over the following 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 plans to build its own space station. It will first support four astronauts. Later, the company hopes to expand to an eight-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. Axiom Space released a statement saying it “warmly felicitated the winners” and looked forward to their shared vision for a successful commercial network in LEO.

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