NASA has selected Axiom Space to develop a commercial module for the International Space Station.
In a January 27 press release, NASA announced that Axion Space had won access to a docking port on the ISS Harmony Module for the construction of “at least one habitable commercial module.” The agency will now begin negotiations with Axion to draw up a fixed-price contract with a five-year base period and a two-year option.
Although Axion has yet to reveal any specific details about the module, the company has stated it will likely include a node module, research and manufacturing capabilities, a crew habitat, and a large-windowed observation module.
NASA began exploring offering the Harmony Module port to commercial partners in 2016 with a request for information from industry. Last June, the agency formally began seeking a partner for the vacant port as part of it’s low Earth orbit commercialization initiative.
In addition to its partnership with NASA, the January 27 press release also revealed that NASA plans to award a contract for the development of a “free-flying, independent commercial destination.” Several companies that submitted bids for the Harmony port are also independently working on free-flying stations.
Two of the companies developing commercial free-flying space stations are Bigalow Aerospace and Nanoracks. Bigalow is developing the B330, a “fully autonomous stand-alone space station” that will offer 330 cubic meters of internal volume and space to house a crew of six.
Nanoracks is working on the Space Outpost, a station that would make use of spent rocket upper stages. The Space Outpost concept has the advantage of having already won a NASA NextSTEP contract. Awarded 2016, the contract was one of several to fund feasibility studies for the commercialisation of low Earth orbit. However, it is currently unclear if Nanoracks has bid using the Space Outpost concept or if the company is working on something new.