NASA had long decided that the future of human missions to low-Earth orbit would be entirely, or almost entirely, in the hands of private companies, and for that purpose, in March 2021, it had established a Commercial LEO Destinations programme, which would provide $400 million to start financing five proposals for the establishment of private space stations. Phil McAllister, Director of Commercial Space Operations at NASA, announced yesterday that NASA had received about a dozen proposals.
"," said McAllister again. According to what McAllister told CNBC, NASA expects to announce the first funding offers by the end of the year.
The first step towards commercializing manned flights was the Commercial Crew Programme, which was docked in 2020, and the first commercial astronauts will start arriving in a few weeks. According to Phil McAlister, only two CCP programs have saved NASA about 20-30 billion in recent years.
NASA's goal for CLD and subsequent private stations is not to abandon low-Earth orbit, but rather to become "just" one of many users of orbital services rather than an organization capable of controlling them all. Moreover, unlike the CCP programme, the Agency will not fully fund these stations.
Because intellectual property, and therefore full control over usage, remains with companies, NASA is no longer comfortable interfering with full funding. This was made possible by the example of the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which was fully funded by NASA and now used for many commercial services. Thus, Dragon would set a precedent, an example of how SpaceX showed that the commercialization of human orbital flights was already possible. This was one of the main goals of NASA since Space Shuttle, a machine that was supposed to open space doors to every American citizen.
About a dozen CLD proposals from start-ups and major companies in the space sector are currently being analysed, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, Airbus, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Axiom is also being added to this, the first modules of which are already in production. The station is likely to become the first of its kind and is already funded under a special programme in 2020. The first module is scheduled to be in orbit in 2024; it will be built in conjunction with ISS until 2028 and will then be separated and autonomous.