NASA selects deep space habitat partners

NASA selects deep space habitat partners

The US space agency NASA is serious about its trip to Mars. The agency has just pledged $65 million, spread over a couple of years and six companies, for the development and testing of deep-space habitats that may be used on way to and on the Red Planet’s surface.

It belongs to the organization’s NEXTStep, a prevailing collaboration program under NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems, funding private study into technology for space exploration.

The NEXTStep contracts in 2015 were for numerous things, but in 2016 all of them are on a single track of deep space habitats where humans will reside and serve independently for months or years at once, in the absence of any cargo supply deliveries from our planet.

This time the numbers are bigger also as the contracts last year amounted for a sum of probable $15 million distributed for 10 ways— $65 million 6 ways is quite more significant investment.

All the fortunate companies have been taking a little different approach to the issue of deep space habitation.

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module was lately linked to the International Space Station (ISS) and is presently undergoing testing. It is looking forward to make one nearly 20 times bigger that they have dubbed the Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement, or XBASE. There are benefits of being able to pack modules closely and later on expanding them when needed, but the BEAM’s problematic deployment demonstrated that there were challenges also, due to which it is under testing currently.

In fact, Lockheed Martin is not all interested in letting good space gear go to trash. It is planning to renovate a cargo modules ferried by the Space Shuttles into a habitable multi-purpose environment. The plan is mainly to use proven devise as a base for testing upcoming developments, such as the transfer of data and crew between the module and, for example, the Orion spacecraft.

According to a report in CS Monitor by Christina Beck, "NASA announced Tuesday that as its mission objectives expand to human exploration of deep space, including planned missions to an asteroid in 2025, and Mars by 2030, it is working together with six US companies to help develop deep space habitats to support human exploration."

Now, NASA has chosen six project proposals out of all the applications it received for the NextSTEP habitation project. It will be working with these six companies to innovate deep space habitation solutions in anticipation of a mission to Mars within the next few decades.

“The activities of these NextSTEP awards will inform the acquisition and deployment approach for the next phase of flight systems for deep space including important aspects such as standards and interfaces, module configurations, and options for deployment utilizing SLS and Orion and commercial vehicles,” wrote NASA in a blog post. “In addition to U.S. Industry, NASA is in discussions on collaborative opportunities with our international partners to enable a robust fully operational deep space habitation capability."

A report published in Tech Crunch informed, "It’s part of the organization’s NEXTStep (not to be confused with the NeXTSTEP OS), an ongoing partnership program under NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems that funds private research into technology for space exploration."

Lockheed Martin doesn’t want to let good space gear go to waste, either; its plan is to refurbish one of the cargo modules carried by the Space Shuttles into a livable multi-purpose environment. The idea is, essentially, to use proven equipment as a base to test future developments, like data and crew transfer between the module and, say, the Orion spacecraft.

It’s all very early, of course, and these projects, among others, are for exploring possibilities and finding potential problems, not actually producing something we can send to Mars or beyond. The technology investigated by these companies will have to prove itself on the ground first, then in orbit, and eventually in cislunar space — the “proving ground” for long term mission hardware.


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