NASA offers up to $400 million for private companies develop space stations

The privatization of space travel and placing satellites into orbit has been great for NASA and the United States in general. NASA now wants to get private companies to develop and build new space stations and has offered up to $400 million in funding to as many as four companies. The funding would be offered under the Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) project.

NASA wants to replicate the success of the Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs with the new CLD project. NASA estimates the Commercial Crew program has saved it between $20 and $30 billion. Awards will be made under the CLD project starting in Q4 2021 for the private companies to begin development on their space stations.

NASA LEO director Phil McAllister sees the three primary activities in low earth orbit, including cargo transportation, crew transportation, and destinations. Private companies already handle cargo and crew transportation, and now NASA wants them to handle destinations. McAllister said if NASA had full ownership of all three of those activities, human aspirations in low Earth orbit would always be limited by the size of NASA's budget.

Bringing private companies into the sector expands the pot putting more people into low Earth orbit. The key motivator for the CLD program is potential cost savings for NASA, with it being a user of private space stations rather than an owner and operator. The price tag for operating the ISS costs NASA about $4 billion per year.

The development and construction of the ISS cost about $150 billion. NASA footed the majority of that bill with Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada contributing. NASA is also pushing the CLD program as the ISS ages after being in orbit since the 1990s. McAllister says while the ISS is an amazing system, it won't last forever. He pointed out that the space station could experience "an unrecoverable anomaly at any time."