NASA Selects Companies to Advance Commercial Capabilities in Low Earth Orbit

Space Station

On April 28, 2023, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) selected seven companies to receive unfunded Space Act Agreements under its Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities Phase 2 (CCSC2) program. The agreements aim to advance private sector development of integrated capabilities in low Earth orbit (LEO) that will be commercially available within the next 5-7 years.

The CCSC2 initiative supports NASA’s goal of establishing a robust LEO economy enabled by the commercial market. With the impending retirement of the International Space Station, NASA seeks to facilitate development of LEO capabilities that will outlast ISS and support continuous human presence in space.

A total of 12 companies submitted proposals that were evaluated based on business approach, technical approach, relevance to NASA’s objectives, and feasibility of utilizing requested government resources.

An initial evaluation was conducted, then the most favorably evaluated proposals went through a due diligence process to refine and improve their proposals.

The selection official, Philip R. McAlister, prioritized diversity of capabilities in the portfolio, as well as development of human space transportation options. He noted that having sufficient competition and choice in human transportation to LEO will be key for near- and long-term LEO economy growth.

Ultimately 7 proposals were selected based on having strong technical feasibility, alignment with NASA’s goals, and potential for broad applicability across the LEO economy:

Blue Origin was selected for its compelling plan for a Crew Transportation System to provide LEO access.

Northrop Grumman proposed a human-tended free-flying destination module that would complement its separate permanently crewed module.

Sierra Space was chosen for synergies with its Orbital Reef project, while still developing distinct capabilities with the Pathfinder station and DC-200 vehicle.

SpaceX put forward an integrated system including Starship transportation and habitation elements that could significantly impact the LEO economy.

Special Aerospace Services was selected for its robotic maneuvering technology that could reduce EVA risks and costs across LEO.

ThinkOrbital stood out for its orbital welding technique that could enable new in-space construction methods.

Vast was picked for its innovative artificial gravity demo module, despite some concerns about its lack of experience and human rating approach.

NASA will provide technical expertise and data to support development of these commercial systems. In return, the capabilities are intended to be available to both government and non-government customers in the future LEO economy. By supporting a diversity of systems, NASA aims to foster a sustainable space industry extending human presence beyond the ISS era.

The full decision document from NASA is provided below:

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