NASA awarded contracts to three U.S. companies, including Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, on Thursday to develop designs of new space stations and other commercial destinations in orbit. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 2 (UPI) -- NASA reached multi-million-dollar agreements with three American companies on Thursday, to develop designs of new space stations and other commercial destinations in orbit.
The space agency signed three contracts, totaling $415.6 million under the Space Act Agreement.
NASA is seeking to maintain an American presence in low-Earth orbit as it transitions away from the International Space Station. It is the agency's hope that the three contracts will stimulate the country's private sector to design and develop independent space stations. Those space stations would then be available to both the public and private sector.
The largest contract the agency awarded is with Houston-based Nanoracks for $160 million. Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation is the oldest of the three private companies and the Virginia firm was awarded a contract worth $125.6 million. Washington state's Blue Origin's contract is for $130 million.
NASA and Congress have previously discussed extending the lifespan of the International Space Station beyond its existing 2028 deadline.
The space station's international coalition has planned to support the orbiting laboratory only through 2028 -- or 2030 if international partners agree on an extension.
"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," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
"In addition to meeting the ISS partners' needs, the Orbital Reef mixed-use space business park will offer reduced costs and complexity, turnkey services, and inspiring space architecture to support any business. No one knows how commercial LEO markets will develop, but we intend to find out," said Blue Origin senior vice president Brent Sherwood.