The three companies are “Blue Origin”, “Nanorax” and “Northrop Goman”, whose contracts amount to 130, 160 and 125.6 million dollars, respectively, according to “AFP”.
Axiom Space won a similar contract worth $140 million last year.
“We are collaborating with American companies to develop space destinations that people can visit and where they can live and work,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
The US agency strongly encourages the privatization of low-Earth orbit in order to save money and focus on distant exploration missions to the moon and Mars.
The International Space Station will remain in service until 2024, and NASA has confirmed that it can technically operate until 2028. Bill Nelson has supported extending its service until 2030.
The goal is for private stations to take over later, putting an end to current international cooperation on the International Space Station, particularly with Russia.
“These contracts will help ensure the continued human presence of the United States in low orbit,” NASA Commercial Flight Director Phil McAllister told a news conference. “Any loophole (in this presence) will be harmful,” he added.
In the future, the US space agency hopes to be able to use the services of private companies to meet their needs, without having to finance the costs of operating a station.
It considers that it will need to be able to send two astronauts into orbit continuously, and perform about 200 experiments annually.
Developed with Sierra Space and called Orbital Reef, Blue Origin may be able to accommodate up to 10 people and be used by tourists, businesses and public destinations. Starlab from Nanorax will begin operations in 2027.
Northrop Goman is still trying to find a name for its station, but it is also planning science or tourism trips.
The “Axiom” project is a little different, as a unit must first be attached to the International Space Station, before the station separates from it to become independent.
No company provided an estimate for the development price of these stations. “The amount that NASA has invested today to launch this program is small compared to the money needed,” said Brent Sherwood of Blue Origin.
Phil McAllister said that the agency’s contribution to these projects does not exceed 40 percent of the total investment amount.