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NASA awards contracts to three private space station projects

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced development contract awards to three different private space station projects.

  • Nanoracks Starlab concept won $160 million. Partners include Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin.
  • Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef project was awarded $130 million, partnering with Sierra Space, Boeing, and Redwire.
  • Northrop Grumman won $125.6 million on a concept based on upgrades to its Cygnus freighter.

All three contracts are Space Act agreements, designed by NASA to jumpstart the companies and their design efforts. All three are in addition to the effort by Axiom to build its own ISS modules that will eventually detach to form its own independent station.

That’s four private American space stations now in the works. All are aiming to launch before this decade is out.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Jay

    Watching the Nanoracks/Voyager/LM Starlab presentation, I thought it was a trailer for a movie!

    Interesting that Northrop Grumman had the lowest bid, but looked like it had the most to offer. Like it is stated, they already have the Cygnus freighter and looks like they are using another HALO just like the one they are developing for Gateway. No mention of it in the description but it was on their graphic – a manned Dragon docked to the station’s nadir port.

  • David K

    None of these have artificial gravity. If we are going to colonize the moon, mars, ceres, and the moons of Jupiter we need to know if humans can survive and reproduce at those gravity levels. Otherwise just forget about all that and go full O’Neil style rotating space habitats.

  • sippin_bourbon


    It is my impression that micro-grav is the point for the research and manufacturing they are considering.
    There is nothing in the NASA reqs for CLD that require it at this point.
    And no one else that has a stake in it has expressed a need or desire for s spinner yet either.

    In my own humble opinion, the first spinning station will probably be an LEO hotel for tourists.

  • The Gateway Foundation, which as far as I can tell isn’t actually doing much, has a good concept for a rotating station.

    Right now, we don’t need gravity in space – we have plenty of it on Earth. We need the micro-gravity environment to do novel things that cannot be done on the ground.

    Medium term, I entirely agree.

  • Edward

    David K,
    You wrote: “None of these have artificial gravity. If we are going to colonize the moon, mars, ceres, and the moons of Jupiter we need to know if humans can survive and reproduce at those gravity levels.

    You may be expecting too much from the first attempt by commercial companies. Let them learn the basics before they go for the more complicated designs.

    I agree that having these various gravity levels can be very useful and educational, but it looks like we are going to do the same as we had planned to do in the 1960s, learn how to live in lunar gravity by making a lunar base. SpaceX is planning to do the same on Mars.

  • Richard M

    “There is nothing in the NASA reqs for CLD that require it at this point.”


    These station proposals are merely designing for what their market is demanding right now.

    I think a variable gravity centripetal LEO station is well overdue. But someone with a pocketbook has got to want it.

  • Ken

    How detailed are these designs? Seems awfully expensive. I assume these include some sort of mockup but I didn’t see anything in the NG press release about it.

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