Image credits -

Recently, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) had to take emergency shelter in a spacecraft docked to the ISS because of a new, potentially dangerous debris field generated by a Russian anti-satellite test.

Hence, it seems U.S. space agency NASA is seeking to maintain an uninterrupted presence in low-Earth orbit by transitioning from the ISS. And for same NASA  is partnering with U.S. companies to develop the space destinations/stations in Loe-Earth Orbit (LEO) where people can visit, live, and work.

NASA has recently signed agreements with 3 companies to develop designs of space stations and other commercial destinations in space. These include --- Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, renowned space-entrepreneur Jeffrey Manber's Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said -
With commercial companies now providing transportation to low-Earth orbit in place, we are partnering with U.S. companies to develop the space destinations where people can visit, live, and work, enabling NASA to continue forging a path in space for the benefit of humanity while fostering commercial activity in space.
Below are commercial stations designed and being developed by the NASA's selected companies -

Orbital Reef

Bezos' Blue Origin and Sierra Space have partnered to develop Orbital Reef, a commercially owned and operated space station to be built in low-Earth orbit, which will start operating in the second half of this decade.

Orbital Reef’s human-centered space architecture is designed to be a “mixed-use space business park” that provides essential infrastructure needed to support all types of human spaceflight activity in low-Earth orbit and can be scaled to serve new markets.


[Image Credits: - Nanoracks/Lockheed Martin/Voyager Space]

Nanoracks’ commercial low-Earth orbit destination, in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin, is called "Starlab" that is targeted for launch in 2027 on a single flight as a continuously crewed, commercial space station dedicated to conducting advanced research, fostering commercial industrial activity, and ensuring continued U.S. presence and leadership in low-Earth orbit. 

Starlab is designed for four astronauts and will have power, volume, and a payload capability equivalent to the International Space Station. The George Washington Carver (GWC) Science Park, the first science park in space, forms the core of Starlab.

Northrop Grumman's Free Flying Space Station 

Northrop Grumman’s low Earth orbit commercial free-flying space station design leverages flight proven elements to provide the base module for extended capabilities including science, tourism, industrial experimentation, and building of infrastructure beyond initial design.

Northrop Grumman’s design for a modular, commercial destination in low-Earth orbit is built on decades of experience supporting NASA, defense, and commercial programs. The station will have the ability to support 4 permanent crewmembers initially, with plans to expand to an 8-person crew and further capability beyond that. The station is designed for a permanent presence of 15 years.

The Northrop Grumman's space station's design leverages flight-proven elements, such as the Cygnus spacecraft that provides cargo delivery to the ISS, to provide a base module for extended capabilities including science, tourism, industrial experimentation, and the building of infrastructure beyond initial design. Multiple docking ports will allow future expansion to support crew analog habitats, laboratories, crew airlocks, and facilities capable of artificial gravity, in support of multiple customers.

Developing commercial destinations in Low-Earth orbit is part of NASA’s broader efforts to build a robust low-Earth orbit economy, including supporting commercial activity and enabling the first private astronaut mission to the space station. 

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