NASA is asking American companies to provide input on the agency’s requirements for end-to-end services as part of the Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program.
In the future, the agency plans to transition its operations in low Earth orbit to commercially owned and operated destinations to ensure continued access and presence in space for research, technology development, and international collaboration after the planned retirement of the International Space Station.
Through a request for information (RFI), NASA is seeking feedback from industry as the agency refines its anticipated requirements for new commercial space destinations. The requirements will help industry understand NASA’s human-rating standards that will be used by the agency to certify that the new systems meet NASA expectations for low Earth orbit operations and transportation. An industry briefing day is scheduled to take place Thursday Oct. 12, with responses to the RFI due Friday, Nov. 17.
“This RFI is a significant next step in transitioning low Earth orbit operations to the private sector, allowing NASA to be one of many customers for services” says Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “These requirements will be the foundation upon which the companies can design safe systems. But the requirements have to work for companies as well. Thus, we are seeking industry feedback on these draft requirements to ensure that the Commercial LEO destinations will be safe, reliable, and cost effective.”
The agency is currently supporting the development of several new stations and destination concepts through both funded and unfunded agreements. However, a company does not need to have a current agreement with NASA in order to provide feedback via the RFI or to bid on future procurements to provide low Earth orbit services to the agency.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of innovation and effort from industry thus far in developing their station designs,” says Angela Hart, manager of the Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We are working in lockstep with multiple companies to help guide them in a way that sets them up for success to meet our requirements. However, it’s crucial that we open feedback to as wide of an audience as possible. The more commercial stations that are successfully operating in low Earth orbit, the greater likelihood that we can continue to drive down costs and encourage innovation in this new commercial space industry.”
NASA previously sought industry input in 2022 and early 2023, and has hosted two industry days on the agency’s assumptions and expectations for crew and technical requirements to guide companies’ technical and business plans. The feedback from industry will continue to inform the agency’s future commercial services strategy for low Earth orbit destinations.
NASA’s goal is to enable a strong commercial marketplace in low Earth orbit where NASA is one of many customers for private industry. This strategy will provide services the government needs safely, at a lower cost, and enables the agency to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon in preparation for Mars, while continuing to use low Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.
Information about how to attend the industry briefing day is contained in the RFI on SAM.gov. For more information about NASA’s commercial space strategy, visit:
By Rebecca Turkington
Johnson Space Center, Houston