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NASA reviewing a dozen commercial proposals for future government space stations

Capitalism in space: Rather than replace the aging International Space Station (ISS) with an entirely government-designed-and-built new station, NASA is now reviewing about a dozen commercial proposals from private companies.

NASA earlier this year unveiled the Commercial LEO Destinations project, with plans to award up to $400 million in total contracts to as many as four companies to begin development of private space stations. In response to NASA’s request, its director of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAlister, told CNBC that the agency “received roughly about a dozen proposals” from a variety of companies for contracts under the project.

…The ISS is more than 20 years old and costs NASA about $4 billion a year to operate. The space station is approved to operate through the end of 2024, with a likely lifespan extension to the end of 2028. But, moving forward, McAlister says NASA wants “to be just one of many users instead of the primary sponsor and infrastructure supporter” for stations in low Earth orbit.

Based on these initial proposals, NASA officials estimate that the agency’s cost for running this future privately-built station will be about $1 billion per year less than the cost for operating ISS.

The agency will also only pay a part of the development cost for the new station, expecting that since the private company or companies will be making money from it also they should front a significant portion of that development cost.

Essentially NASA is following precisely the recommendations I put forth in my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in space. And as I also predicted, the result is more achievement faster for far less cost.

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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.

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  • I would love to know more about what NASA wanted and what the different companies submitted. Darn, I wish I was about 30 years younger as the times are exciting. I could maybe go to space and live out some science fiction.

  • Jeff Wright

    You don’t want just one station- a free flyer net work of different stations doing different tasks and different climes so as to produce different goods-so as to give RLVs somewhere to go.

    That is a mature space market with trade beyond comsat/weathersat/milsat model which is over-ripe to say the least. And billionaire enthusiasts do not help.

    Musk wants to bug out and be Mars’ Paul Atraides…where the Red Planet is worse than Ceti Alpha V. Branson is a ringmaster of a circus who doesn’t want you peeking under the curtain of his Oz. Bezos-that I had the greatest faith in…has the Wormtongues in legal whispering in his ear.

    Now you all think I’m a New Dealer dinosaur trying to hold on to past MSFC glories-but I can look over the fence, you see…because I am not a purist.

    The focus on RLVs first and space factories last is mistaken. The real reason I support SLS is to have it evolve into an Energia-Buran type Shuttle II. An engine equipped External Tank allows a simpler spaceplane that can be exchanged for hypersonic test craft of large scale…keeping winged space research alive.

    Musk doesn’t like wings? Fine…because I don’t like moving lighthouses or catching falling grain silos.

    Keep a modded SLS up there as a Gene Meyers External Tank station as per Space Island Group.

    That is both fiscally wiser -real estate-and technically easier in that the ET/SLS doesn’t need fins/legs/TPS…and you dont have to keep wrangling a Blue Whale…or do stupid tank tricks like the Adama Maneuver where you land perfectly or die!

    Better to fly down to any airport with turbojets on Buran 2 with a cargo hold full of space-made goods spilling out. Mainstream markets will sit up and take notice…and even sleepy Boeing start work on a Star Raker Shuttle 3 based on USAF-Space Force hypersonic research also enabled by the same infrastructure…and at last have the Orion of 2OOI.

    The high volume LH2…and the big tanks they require are not bugs-they are features. This is how Old Space allows mature growth if New Space goes the way of Beal.

  • MDN

    Jeff Wright:

    If you want to see an SLS based Shuttle II, go for it. Just don’t ask taxpayers to subsidize its development in excess of what SpaceX received for Falcon 9 and Starship/Super Heavy.

    I share BillB’s sentiment that I’d love to see the proposals and wish I were 30 years younger so I could actively participate in this new revolution. And I wonder what kind of Bigelow type inflatable structure is possible with Super Heavy’s 100 metric ton payload capacity to low earth orbit? If we start thinking like Moties* instead of Boeing or RosCosmos rigid hull fabricators I expect we can have a gymnasium-sized Ritz Carlton in space sooner rather than later!

    * The industrious beings from “The Mote in God’s Eye” who are masters of elastomeric ship hull construction as metals are extremely scarce in their solar system.

  • Questioner

    Jeff Wright:

    For your part, have solid arguments that the Starship rocket system will not have the commercial and operational success that Elon Musk expects. Could it not, despite the fact that Musk’s colonization plans for Mars are, of course, completely insane, prove to be a revolutionary solution for transporting payloads to LEO?

  • sippin_bourbon

    From my humble point of view, this sounds a lot like what the government already does when it needs a new building or facility on the surface.

    It finds or seizes the land (not needed in this case, of course), puts out design specs, and then pays 2x the normal costs to build it. Okay, maybe that is a minor exaggeration, but not much. Either way, they contract the construction.

    For smaller facilities, the lease, and the owner is responsible for maintenance.

    I like this plan. It opens the doors to new facilities in space, that will likely be launched and built in a reasonable timetable.

  • Edward

    From the article:

    When NASA hosted an industry briefing for company officials in March, interested parties included recognizable names like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Airbus, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

    I wish they gave us names of the dozen companies that submitted proposals. In addition to the five mentioned above and Axiom, also mentioned in the article, I expect that Ixion and Sierra Space submitted proposals, leaving four unknown companies.

  • Jeff Wright

    Axiom at least is looking at metal tankage based wet workshops that can be grounded and have rigidity…put inflatables in and around them for margin. This notion that gov’t can do nothing right and private concerns no wrong is just religion. I would rather come back from space aboard an American Buran 2 than Starship. Use that for LESA type moonbase towers. No need for wings. Diversity in spaceflight should mean an assortment of different craft.

  • Edward

    Jeff Wright,
    You wrote: “This notion that gov’t can do nothing right and private concerns no wrong is just religion.

    I don’t know what I said to make you think that I have a notion that government can do nothing right or that private concerns can do no wrong.

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