NASA has announced that it is seeking proposals for a pair of new private astronaut missions, with the destination being the ISS. NASA says that the two missions are part of the agency’s efforts to open space to more people than ever before. The opportunities will allow US commercial companies to continue to play a central role in establishing a sustained presence in low-Earth orbit through the NASA Commercial LEO Development Program.
The first launch opportunity will occur between the fall of 2022 and mid-2023, the second occurring between mid-2023 and the end of 2023. NASA will be accepting proposals through Friday, July 9 at 5 PM EDT. NASA has announced that it will host a conference to field questions from industry partners related to the announcement.
Private astronaut missions use US commercial spacecraft to transport private astronauts to the space station where activities will be conducted onboard the laboratory or a commercial structure will be attached to it. NASA plans to enable up to two short-duration private astronaut missions each year. The new targeted flight opportunities are the second and third private astronaut missions to the ISS.
Currently, NASA has an agreement with Axiom Space for the first private astronaut mission that will occur no earlier than January 2022. Each of the new proposed missions will span up to 14 days. Specific launch dates are dependent on traffic to the space station and in-orbit activity planning and constraints. Any private mission must be brokered by a US entity and use US transportation spacecraft meeting NASA vehicle requirements, policies, and procedures.
NASA says that enabling private astronaut missions to the ISS is part of its goal to develop a robust low-earth orbit economy. NASA wants to be one of many customers and wants the private sector to lead the way. It believes the sort of mission will provide services to the government at a lower cost.