Companies are rapidly designing private space stations that could one day dominate operations in orbit around the Earth.
Why it matters: NASA hopes private industry will begin operating in low Earth orbit once the International Space Station is complete, creating a stable trading market in that part of space.
- Commercial private space stations are part of NASA’s vision to buy services from companies in orbit and then focus on more distant goals such as reaching the moon and Mars.
News drive: NASA detailed the initiative in late March, asking companies to partner with them to develop private space stations that could act as a destination for astronauts and NASA research in the future.
- Under these agreements, NASA will help companies develop space stations and conduct a preliminary review of the project ̵
- Following in the footsteps of this announcement, Sierra Nevada Corporation announced its plans to build a private space station.
- Another company, Axiom Space, already has plans to build its own commercial space station after first attaching a module to the International Space Station at some point in the coming years.
Between the lines: NASA wants to avoid a gap in the agency’s regular access to orbit when the ISS retires before the end of the decade.
- The space agency was forced to rely on Russia for access to orbit when the space shuttle program ended before commercial flyers such as SpaceX launched and operated.
- Partnering with private companies now, the agency signals that it wants to be able to move smoothly to private stations instead of stopping firmly when the ISS is completed.
- “We’re not just going to turn off the lights one day,” said Phil McAllister, NASA’s director of commercial space flight development, during the event. “We will have a period of overlap in which we will reduce ISS operations for a certain period of time while increasing LEO operations. [low-Earth orbit] destinations. So that gives us some time. “
NASA has already proven effective launched this type of public / private partnership model with SpaceX flying astronauts into orbit.
But, but, but: Operating a private space station is a much bigger task than just launching people into space, and some industry experts say there is not enough time for private companies to put their space stations into operation before the ISS is completed.
- Funding for NASA’s new program may also not be enough to get these stations in place on time.
- “I don’t see how they will collect it by 2024. [or] 2028, “Victoria Samson of the Safe World Foundation told Axios.” I think we are much more likely to see the Chinese space station long before the commercial space station or the private space station. ”