NASA hits up 7 space companies to take on orbital squad goals

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NASA has announced Space Act agreements with seven private space companies in the hopes of spurring tech developments the government may invest in down the line, from space stations to human transport and robotics.

While no money is changing hands, these partnerships are official collaborations, with NASA providing expertise and resources to aid and guide companies as they attempt to “meet future commercial and government needs” in specific avenues of R&D.

“It is great to see companies invest their own capital toward innovative commercial space capabilities, and we’ve seen how these types of partnerships benefit both the private sector and NASA. The companies can leverage NASA’s vast knowledge and experience, and the agency can be a customer for the capabilities included in the agreements in the future,” said NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAlister, in a news release.

All the research is aimed at advancing the low Earth orbit (LEO) economy, which despite our lunar ambitions in Artemis, is a much more immediately relevant area for commerce and science. With the ISS on its way out and launch costs dropping quickly, it’s clear that LEO will be a competitive space across countless domains.

Here’s what each of the seven companies will be working on over the next few years pursuant to these agreements:

  • Blue Origin: Commercial space transportation for high-frequency U.S. access to orbit
  • Northrop Grumman: A “persistent platform” for autonomous and robotic research and manufacturing on orbit
  • Sierra Space: Space transport, infrastructure, and expandable and tailorable space facilities
  • SpaceX: Adapting Starship as both transportation and as a “destination element” in space (i.e. a space station)
  • Special Aerospace Services: Orbital servicing and mobility for assembly and inspection of in-space systems
  • ThinkOrbital: Self-assembling, single-launch orbital platforms for research and habitation
  • Vast: The Haven-1 “commercial destination,” a microgravity environment for research and private crewed operations

Don’t expect any huge announcements on these things any time soon — the last time NASA made a pack of these deals was in 2014 and those haven’t all shown up yet. It’s more of a “sounds cool, call if you need a hand” kind of thing. But it’s still nice to hear.

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