Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NASA Chooses Finalists For Deep Space Exploration Habitat

Hot off last year's successful results, NASA's public-private joint program, Next-STEP has just announced its newest aim to enlist private manufacturing for deep space exploration.

Next-STEP 2 will feature a competitive contract model for six companies chosen by NASA: Bigelow Aerospace LLC, Lockheed Martin, Sierra Nevada Corp, Orbital ATK, NanoRacks, and Boeing. These companies will provide prototypes from a shared grant of $65 million provided by NASA, along with up to 30 percent of their own money to added developmental costs.

Deep Space Habitat Prototype
Whereas the previous objective of 2015's Next-STEP included "commercial capabilities in low-orbit" (basically, airliners in space), this year's criteria focuses fully on developing a habitat environment for humans to survive the long time and conditions of deep space travel. The resulting technology could significantly advance NASA's well-publicized goal of astronauts reaching Mars by 2040. From NASA's press release detailing the endeavor:

"The ground prototypes will be used for three primary purposes: supporting integrated systems testing, human factors and operations testing, and to help define overall system functionality, These are important activities, as they help define the design standards, common interfaces and requirements while reducing risks for the final flight systems that will come after this phase."

 In essence, all six companies will have to find innovative ways to develop new designs of deep space habitats that will be subject to rigorous testing and risk assessment. Afterwards, NASA will almost certainly tweak whatever final prototype they choose, which will serve as the basis for the next generation of an increasingly interesting landscape of deep space exploration.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.