NASA has announced its partnership with seven American companies to address future commercial and government needs, with the aim of benefiting human spaceflight and the U.S. commercial low Earth orbit economy. The initiative, called Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities-2 (CCSC-2), will involve unfunded Space Act Agreements. The primary objective of CCSC-2 is to advance commercial space-related efforts by leveraging NASA’s technical expertise, assessments, lessons learned, technologies, and data. This structured sharing of knowledge from NASA requires minimal government resources and encourages the development of capabilities crucial for a thriving low Earth orbit economy.
The companies selected for CCSC-2 are as follows:
- Blue Origin – Kent, Washington
- Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation – Dulles, Virginia
- Sierra Space Corporation – Broomfield, Colorado
- Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) – Hawthorne, California
- Special Aerospace Services – Boulder, Colorado
- ThinkOrbital Inc. – Lafayette, Colorado
- Vast Space LLC – Long Beach, California
Phil McAlister, the director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., expressed his appreciation for companies investing their own capital in innovative commercial space capabilities. He highlighted the mutually beneficial nature of partnerships between the private sector and NASA. These collaborations allow the companies to leverage NASA’s extensive knowledge and experience, while NASA can potentially become a customer for the capabilities developed under the agreements. Ultimately, these agreements will stimulate competition in services and encourage the emergence of more providers of innovative space capabilities.
NASA selected the proposals based on their alignment with the agency’s goals, the feasibility of the companies’ business and technical approaches, and their ability to provide the required resources. Each party participating in the agreements bears the cost of its involvement.
The specific collaborations between NASA and the selected companies are as follows:
- Blue Origin: Collaborating with NASA to develop integrated commercial space transportation capabilities that ensure safe, affordable, and frequent access to orbit for crew and other missions.
- Northrop Grumman: Collaborating with NASA on the Persistent Platform, which aims to provide autonomous and robotic capabilities for commercial scientific research and manufacturing in low Earth orbit.
- Sierra Space: Collaborating with NASA to develop a commercial low Earth orbit ecosystem, including next-generation space transportation, in-space infrastructure, and expandable and customizable space facilities to support human presence in low Earth orbit.
- SpaceX: Collaborating with NASA on an integrated low Earth orbit architecture, encompassing a range of technologies such as the Dragon spacecraft, Starship, Super Heavy, Starlink, crew and cargo transportation, communications, and operational and ground support.
- Special Aerospace Services: Collaborating with NASA on in-space servicing technology, propulsion, and robotics, specifically the Autonomous Maneuvering Unit (AMU) and the Astronaut Assist-AMU. These technologies are intended for commercial in-space servicing, mobility applications, and safer assembly, retrieval, and inspection of in-space systems in low Earth orbit.
- ThinkOrbital: Collaborating with NASA on the development of ThinkPlatforms and CONTESA (Construction Technologies for Space Applications). ThinkPlatforms are self-assembling, large-scale orbital platforms launched as a single unit. They facilitate various applications in low Earth orbit, such as research, manufacturing, and astronaut missions. CONTESA includes welding, cutting, inspection, and additive manufacturing technologies to support large-scale in-space fabrication.
- Vast Space: Collaborating with NASA on technologies and operations for microgravity and artificial gravity stations. This collaboration involves the development of the Haven-1 commercial destination, which offers a microgravity environment for crew, research, and in-space manufacturing. Additionally, Vast Space plans to conduct the first crewed mission, Vast -1, to the platform. Development activities for larger space station modules will also take place under the Space Act Agreement.
NASA’s support for a robust low Earth orbit economy aims to promote education, job growth in science and engineering, and economic development through the creation of new space markets. The initial Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities selections made in 2014 contributed to the development of commercial rockets, spacecraft, and spacesuits.
For several decades, NASA has maintained a continuous human presence in low Earth orbit with astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station. In 2019, NASA adopted a strategy to facilitate the establishment of a low Earth orbit marketplace where NASA is just one of many customers, with the private sector leading the way. This strategy enables NASA to continue utilizing low Earth orbit for scientific discoveries, technological advancements, improvements to life on Earth, and progress in human exploration of deep space.
Image Source: NASA