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NASA puts solicitation for commercial free-flyer station on hold

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WASHINGTON — Whereas NASA seeks to ultimately transition from the Worldwide Area Station to business stations in low Earth orbit, the company is placing on maintain a solicitation to help growth of such a free-flying platform.

One factor of NASA’s LEO commercialization technique, announced in June 2019, was to fund growth of business platforms, together with each modules connected to the ISS in addition to business stations. By way of NASA’s Subsequent Area Applied sciences for Exploration Partnership (NextSTEP) program, it solicited proposals for a business module connected to the ISS, selecting Axiom Space in January.

NASA had additionally deliberate to make use of the NextSTEP program for a separate solicitation, often known as Appendix Ok, to help growth of a standalone, or free-flyer, business station. Nonetheless, after issuing a draft solicitation final October and holding an business day in November, the company didn’t concern a ultimate solicitation.

At a session of the ISS Analysis and Improvement Convention held on-line Aug. 27, company officers confirmed they don’t plan to pursue the free-flyer solicitation in the meanwhile. “We’re reevaluating how we need to try this solicitation,” mentioned Angela Hart, LEO commercialization supervisor at NASA. “At the moment we is not going to be shifting ahead with Appendix Ok.”

She didn’t elaborate on the particular points with the solicitation that led to that call, however emphasised that the company remains to be excited about supporting growth of business area stations. “It’s nonetheless a vital a part of that general technique, so we can be doing that sooner or later,” she mentioned.

“We undoubtedly need to do a free-flyer acquisition,” mentioned Phil McAlister, director of business spaceflight packages at NASA, in the identical panel. “I can’t promise any particular timelines related to that, however we’re undoubtedly engaged on the free flyer and intend to launch a solicitation quickly on that when we get our technique all agreed to internally.”

Improvement of business area stations is a part of NASA’s long-term effort to progressively transition from the ISS to business platforms. “In some unspecified time in the future sooner or later, we’re going to incrementally part down ISS operations,” he mentioned, noting there was no particular date for ending the ISS. “Proper now, we don’t have any business locations in area, so we’re going to be, for the following a number of years, engaged on growing these techniques.”

The aim, he mentioned, was to have a couple of business station in orbit that NASA can use as certainly one of many authorities and personal prospects. “We need to use competitors,” he mentioned. “We do need to have a couple of platform after we get there.”

One near-term problem to that’s funding. NASA requested $150 million for its LEO commercialization efforts in its fiscal yr 2020 funds proposal, however solely acquired $15 million. NASA once more requested $150 million for this system in its fiscal yr 2021 request. The Home allotted solely $15 million for it in its model of a spending invoice, whereas the Senate has but to take motion on its model.

“This yr we solely bought $15 million. That doesn’t allow an entire lot of spacecraft growth,” McAlister mentioned. “We have to do a greater job there telling our story.”

He added that, in the long run, he hopes to assist help growth of business amenities by means of decrease transportation prices. “Each examine has recognized excessive transportation prices as a drag, an obstacle, to business operations,” he mentioned. NASA will recompete its current business crew and cargo contracts round center of the last decade, “I’m going to actually push arduous for us to cut back these transportation prices. That’s going to be an actual aim for NASA.”

One other nearer-term alternative to help LEO commercialization is thru what NASA calls “personal astronaut missions,” or business crew missions devoted to carrying personal prospects reasonably than NASA astronauts. NASA’s LEO commercialization technique requires permitting as much as two such missions a yr, for as much as 30 days at a time.

Hart mentioned NASA has acquired various proposals from business for such missions, which can be reviewed by a brand new panel her workplace will arrange. That features two “mission-specific proposals” at present being thought-about. She declined to debate particulars about these proposed personal missions, citing “proprietary concerns” involving them.

One potential buyer for a type of personal astronaut missions is the actor Tom Cruise, who’s searching for to movie a film on the ISS. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted in May that NASA “is happy to work with Tom Cruise on a movie aboard the area station,” however didn’t disclose extra particulars.

Bridenstine, in recorded remarks on the convention, alluded to that effort though didn’t point out Cruise by title. “Proper now we’re how will we take astronauts that could be excited about possibly making a film,” he mentioned of ISS commercialization actions. “If a well-known actor needs to make a film, we help that.”

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