NASA has announced that it is looking for help in order to build deep space habitats that could one day be used on Mars.
Deep space habitats will provide living areas for astronauts
According to NASA it is looking for help to build “deep space habitats that will give astronauts a place to call home during long-duration missions.” The space agency is currently looking for proposals for prototypes.
“NASA’s Orion crew spacecraft and Space Launch System are the agency’s first major components for establishing a human presence in deep space,” the agency wrote in its announcement. “With these transportation systems progressing toward their maiden flight in 2018, NASA now is looking toward investments in deep space habitation — the next major component of human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.”
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A successful proposal will need to include plans “for an evolvable approach to long-duration deep space habitation and the development of full-size, ground prototype habitat units no later than 2018,” NASA said.
The deadline for submission is 5 PM ET on June 15. Applications are welcome from U.S. companies, universities and nonprofits, and interested parties can ask NASA for more information on the project at a meeting scheduled for 11 AM on April 25.
NextSTEP program moves into phase two
The first move in this direction was made in October 2014, when NASA asked for proposals “for concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of habitation, advanced propulsion and small satellites” under the terms of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.
As the space agency moves into the second phase of that program it is ready for additional contractors to contribute.
“NASA is increasingly embracing public-private partnerships to expand capabilities, and opportunities in space,” Jason Crusan, director of the space agency’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division, which sponsors NextSTEP, said in a statement. “Our NextSTEP partners commit their own corporate resources toward the development — making them a true partner in the spaceflight economy.”
Bigelow Bungalow currently being tested at ISS
One successful NextSTEP partner is Bigelow Aerospace, whose Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is currently undergoing testing at the International Space Station (ISS). The inflatable module could provide a habitat for astronauts on deep space missions.
The idea of an inflatable habitat was first floated in the 1960s by NASA engineers. Teams continued to work on the idea but it was later pulled due to budget constraints.
However thanks to NASA’s strategy to commercialize space, Bigelow Aerospace was licensed the original NASA patents. For over a decade the company has been developing the BEAM module, which is also known as the Bigelow Bungalow.
The Bigelow Bungalow was delivered to the ISS by a SpaceX rocket, which provides further evidence of the positive impact that private space enterprises are having on innovation in space.
SpaceX is working on reusable rocket technology and recently made a successful landing on a drone boat in the middle of the ocean. If the company can continue to prove that its reusable rocket technology is safe, we could see a massive reduction in the cost of space travel.
As it stands it looks as though innovation in space will continue to rely heavily on public-private partnerships. It might only be a matter of time until we can send humans to Mars to live in the deep space habitats that NASA is looking to develop.