WASHINGTON NASA partnerships announced June 15 will support the development of new commercial capabilities that include a Blue Origin manned spacecraft and a SpaceX-derived space station.
NASA has announced the selection of seven companies for unfunded Space Act deals as part of its Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities-2 (CCSC-2) initiative. NASA will provide selected companies with technical expertise, assessments and data to assist companies in developing new capabilities.
Companies can leverage NASA’s extensive knowledge and experience, and the agency can be a customer for capabilities included in the deals in the future, Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement on the selections. Ultimately, these agreements will foster more competition for services and more providers of innovative space capabilities.
NASA does not provide any funding to the companies under the agreements. The agency said in the announcement that offering its expertise to companies requires only minimal government resources.
Among the companies receiving CCSC-2 agreements is Blue Origin. That company will use the agreement to work on an integrated commercial space transportation capability that provides safe, convenient, high-frequency U.S. access to orbit for crew and other missions. The statement didn’t provide further details, and Blue Origin didn’t immediately respond to questions about those plans.
This statement suggests that Blue Origin is working on a manned spacecraft. The company began work on such a vehicle more than a decade ago with two funded Space Act deals in the initial stages of NASA’s commercial crew development program. Those awards backed initial designs for what the company called a spacecraft, a biconical design initially intended for launch on the Atlas 5. Blue Origin chose not to compete in later stages of the program.
SpaceX has received a CCSC-2 deal to work on an integrated low-Earth orbit architecture involving both its Dragon and Starship vehicles. This architecture includes Starship as a low-Earth-orbit-in-space and transport destination element supported by Super Heavy, Dragon and Starlink, the announcement said.
SpaceX has not previously discussed using Starship as a LEO destination, but others in the industry have suggested that the large volume Starship offers could make it an option as a commercial space station.
SpaceX’s spaceship is so big and also so cheap that it could be a station itself, Chad Anderson, founder and chief executive of Space Capital, said during a session of the Financial Times Invest in space conference on June 6th. He suggested it could disrupt business models for other commercial space stations.
One example he gave was a hospitality company that did Starship interiors for clients. They could throw a bunch of people and stay as long as they wanted with the accommodations they wanted, and they could do it all for less than the cost of a seat at the space station today.
Other companies working on space stations have also received CCSC-2 agreements. Sierra Space will work with NASA on its commercial low-Earth orbit ecosystem that includes the Dream Chaser spacecraft and LIFE Expandable Modules. ThinkOrbital has received an agreement to refine its plans for large platforms in space for manned research, production and applications. Vast will work with NASA to support its plans, announced in May, for the Haven-1 module and crewed missions to it.
Other CCSC-2 awards went to Northrop Grumman for an autonomous spacecraft called the Persistent Platform, based on its Cygnus vehicle, for commercial research and production, and to Special Aerospace Services for an in-space maintenance technology called the Autonomous Manoeuvering Unit.
The CCSC-2 deals come nine years after the first such deals NASA made with four companies. Final Fronter Design received an award for working on a pressure suit, Orbital ATK (now part of Northrop Grumman) received one for its Mission Extension Vehicle satellite assist spacecraft, SpaceX for technologies needed for deep space missions which included methane-oxygen propulsion used on Starship and United Launch Alliance for a variety of technologies for its Vulcan launch vehicle.
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