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NASA Partners with Private Companies to Build Space Habitats

Aug 11, 2016 03:20 AM EDT
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In hopes of surviving in space, NASA is partnering with private companies to build space habitats. The Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program has partnered with approximately six companies to build the prototypes which would meet the criteria of basic life support to radiation mitigation.

For NASAs NextSTEP program, six private companies have been selected. These include a few renowned names in the US aerospace industry namely Orbital ATK, Bigelow Aerospace, Nanoracks, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems, and Lockheed Martin.

However, not all of the companies will be building space habitat modules. A few are said to focus on propulsion systems, communication infrastructure, and other equipment needed for survival in space. The space habitats created by the companies will become part of the mission to Mars set for 2030.

The three private companies focused on creating space habitats are Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, and NanoRacks. Bigelow Aerospace is developing an Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement (XBASE), which is an expandable habitat. This 330 cubic meter space habitat would be attached to the visiting module of an existing space station.

Boeing's space habitat is a capsule designed to be assembled while in orbit. Low cost and quite simple, the Boeing space habitat can be modified for long term deep space missions. The third space habitat is from NanoRacks, which is in partnership with two companies namely United Launch Alliance and Space Systems Loral. The habitat called "Ixion" will make use of repurposed propellant tanks of launch vehicles. These will be converted into a space habitat. If the design works, this can be a cost saving measure.

As for Lockheed Martin, the private company is set on developing a logistic module. This will be used for the Orion spacecraft. The main component of Lockheed Martin's logistic module is its Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS).

Orbital ATK will be creating cargo supply ships in the form of the Cygnus Spacecraft for the International Space Station (ISS). The Cygnus Spacecraft is reportedly a new prototype which will be used in tandem with other deep space modules and the Orion Spacecraft. Last but not the least is Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems. The private company is in charge of creating an unmanned reusable space vehicle, the Dream Chaser spaceplane.

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