Sierra Nevada Signs Contract with NASA for Deep Space Habitat Prototype

Artist rendering of conceptual design for deep space habitat. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

SPARKS, Nev. (January 25, 2018) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has formalized its agreement with NASA under Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2), signing a contract to design and develop a prototype for a deep space habitat. The formal signing of the contract under NextSTEP Broad Agency Announcement, Appendix A: Habitat Systems, aimed at enabling potential long-duration human missions in deep space, clears the way for actual production of SNC’s prototype in the coming months.

SNC is partnering with Aerojet Rocketdyne and ILC Dover to begin the conceptual architectural design; they will build a full-scale ground prototype of the main habitable volume over the next 19 months.

“The future of human spaceflight includes long-duration travel in deep space and these prototypes will help develop the concepts to make it possible. The idea that humans are starting to expand farther into space than ever before is exciting and we’re thrilled to be a part of it,” said Fatih Ozmen, owner and CEO of SNC.

The public-private habitation development work supports NASA’s study of a deep space gateway concept in cislunar space. Located in lunar orbit, a gateway could enable a new level of space exploration never before possible. NASA gateway studies and prototypes will be used to look at commercial capabilities and risk reduction as the agency defines requirements and objectives for the spaceport.

If the concept is approved, the gateway would launch in several elements, and the first would be power and propulsion. SNC is studying this element under a separate NextSTEP Broad Agency Announcement contract award for Appendix C: Power and Propulsion Studies. SNC envisions the power and propulsion element utilizing the company’s logistics and control module (LCM) and solar electric propulsion module (SEPM) as initial building blocks for our proposed deep space gateway architecture concept.

SNC’s concepts could incorporate all of NASA’s key elements for a gateway:

  • LCM delivers a utility room that houses avionics, guidance and navigation control and life support systems.
  • A version of the LCM combined with the SEPM provides transportation, station keeping and orbit transfer while stationed around the moon.
  • Large inflatable fabric environment (LIFE) provides pressurized volume for living quarters, exercise equipment, experiment area, SNC’s advanced plant growth system and emergency radiation shelter for long-duration habitation.
  • Flexible airlock architecture allows for in-space assembly, extravehicular activities (EVA) by crew members and docking of visiting vehicles such as Orion.

The deep space gateway concept complements SNC’s extensive space portfolio which includes the Dream Chaser® spacecraft slated to start resupply missions to the International Space Station in 2020 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract. SNC’s work under the NextSTEP-2 architecture leverages technology developed for the Dream Chaser vehicle including proximity operations systems for in-space vehicle docking, environmental control and life support systems, as well as other essential subsystems for on-orbit operation and control.

“Working on this technology shows SNC’s dedication to the future of spaceflight and long-duration exploration missions that are critical to NASA’s vision of space exploration,” said Mark Sirangelo, executive vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area.

SNC previously won a NASA award for Phase I of the project that allowed research on a concept study for a habitat life support system. The study incorporated the concept and development of a prototype for the Greenwall, an advanced plant growth system for long-duration human sustainability in deep space.

  • windbourne

    ILC Dover has fallen off the edge, yet, they, like Bigelow are IDEAL for space stations/habitats.
    We really should be using inflatables for this.

    Hopefully, we can see multiple private space stations going up from this.
    Ideally, BA and ILC dover will be able to get habitats added to ISS, outfitted, vetted by NASA, and finally released for occupation.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, got to have the seal of approval from NASA…

  • Robert G. Oler

    before you figure out what it looks like you need to figure out what it does

  • windbourne

    If a company in China develops a cheap launch and habitat system, and u have the money or was offered a free ride to it, will u go to it ?

  • windbourne

    One item that surprises me is that they separate solar panels from thermal radiators. Seems like putting the radiator on the backside of the solar would keep it colder since one side of solar panel always faces the sun.
    Iow, radiators would be in cool shade constantly.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The power requirements of a spacestation change. When only a little power is needed the solar panels are turned to be at an angle to the sun. If the radiators are on the back then the radiators receive unwanted sunlight.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Sure. Frontiers are not for those afraid to take risks. That is the problem with this new mission creep of turning NASA into a “regulatory” Agency in place of the FAA CST.

    BTW, that was the same argument “it’s must meet specs” that AT&T used to hold back the mobile phone industry by not letting them link to the AT&T phone lines so you could call folks at home. But a lawsuit brought by Sprint put an end to that nonsense and the free market competition resulted in the smart phones of today. It’s the standard argument monopolies use against challengers, you must meet our standards of quality, when often those standards were made irrevalant by technological advances.

    AT&T designed it phones to last decades ensuring a slow down in technological advances. The new mobile phone firms by contrast recognized that it a stupid idea when you would replace it with a better newer model in a couple years.

    The ISS, like the old AT&T has lasted for decades, but I expected the new commercial stations will be constantly replaced with better ones each few years, easy to do when it only takes 2-3 launches to deploy one.

  • I count 3 conical Dream Chaser service modules in that picture!

  • Gerald Cecil

    While I’d love to see inflatables (esp. one buried on the lunar surface as habitat!), I suspect that NASA will end up specifying ‘spam in can’ recycled ISS modules built by legacy aerospace contractors for the lunar gateway thing … preserving the cost-plus gravy train.

  • Michael Halpern

    Congress might try but in most things both NASA and USAF are trying their damnedest to avoid cost-plus these days, SpaceX for instance has never accepted (nor been offered) a cost-plus contract.

  • Search

    Also when radiators are independent you can put them edge on to sun (depending upon other constraints) and radiate from both sides which makes them more effective

  • Cinttya

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  • Eric Thiel

    Could be a good reason to end the iss at 2024, then let the private sector take over in LEO station operations.

  • Jeff2Space

    Of course they know the requirements! This is just a “mini-ISS” in a different orbit, right? /s

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, and a compromise would be for NASA to lease a BA330 and place it in the ISS orbit about 100 kilometers or so from the ISS. It would make it easy to rotate crew on it during ISS crew missions. More importantly it could serve as a shelter if the crew of the ISS needs to abandon it because of a failure of a critical system.

    The current plan would be an emergency return to Earth, but if they do return it will take weeks, maybe months to return to the ISS and by then it may no longer be possible to salvage it. By contrast a crew taking shelter in the BA330 could return quickly to it once the problem is understood and salvage the ISS.

  • windbourne

    I think that you would be in the few.
    Most ppl that have the money to go to space, will insist on some sort of vetting. NASA is the gold. BUT, I would take FAA.
    Still, if NASA vets Bigelow, ILC Dover, or Axiom, you can bet on it that many other nations will be happy to get up there.

  • windbourne

    Actually, this is exactly why I keep harping about having a tug. By having a tug, it would be possible to use a sundancer or BA-330 as a transport between stations. At that point, a BA-330 can then go to ISS, dock, be outfitted, and then sent on its way until needed.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Bigelow Aerospace has had a short list of foreign nations waiting for years to fly.

    “For its part, Bigelow, in addition to showing off his modules, revealed for the first time the six “sovereign clients”
    that have signed memoranda of understanding to utilize his orbital
    facilities: the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan
    and Sweden.’

  • ThomasLMatula

    You keep forgetting. The B330 is a Space Station, not a spacecraft. And they already have an agreement to place an B330 in lunar orbit. Again, they just need SpaceX to show its Dragon2 on a Falcon heavy would be able to reach it. Or Boeing will with its CST100.

    “The B330 is a standalone commercial space station that can operate in low Earth orbit, cislunar space and beyond. A single B330 is comparable to one third of the current pressurized volume of the entire International Space Station. Bigelow Aerospace is developing two B330 commercial space station habitats that will be ready for launch any time after 2020.”

    The BEAM was just a very small quick one off project that NASA threw BA as a bone to keep his complaining down. Bigelow Aerospace designed, built it and delivered it to NASA in only 27 months for $17.5 million dollars, faster and cheaper than it probably would have cost NASA to do its view graphs for it 🙂

  • JS Initials

    Off-the-shelf Hall-Effect thrusters, off-the-shelf solar panels, off-the-shelf avionics…what else do we need to keep costs down?

  • JS Initials

    Yes, B330 without an integrated propulsion module is indeed a Space Station, but what’s to keep a propulsion module from being developed, built, tested and integrated for and to a B330?

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    well it is fantasy art after all

  • Robert G. Oler

    And a gift to the industry folks

  • Violetts

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  • And that would be the problem, from NASA to SpaceX (and everyone in between) there are TONS of paper rockets and pretty pictures. And almost every picture is accompanied by “if we can only get X taxpayer dollars, we’ll build the future!” No one has figured how to print money from space businesses yet.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Nothing but money, which is the nice thing about the B330, its flexibility. The ISS is so big and awkward it is stuck in it’s orbit until it is dropped into the ocean. Trying to take it into a higher storage orbit will fry its electronics in the Van Allen Belts. The B330 by contrast was designed for lunar orbits and beyond so it would make a great Interplanetary craft, Mars Cycler or even Mars station. It’s not an expensive one-trick pony like ISS.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Unfortunately that is because over the years the aerospace firms have become conditioned to looking to the government for money. It’s just like feeding wild birds, they become so use to the easy food at the bird feeder they forget how to forge in the wild.

  • mike_shupp

    It strikes me as something like crew facilities in an aircraft hanger — a place for a couple of astronauts to stretch out, sleep, use the sit down toilet, and generally exist for a few days or weeks, while they perform various EVAs, to service spacecraft shuttling between the Moon and the Gateway, packing away surface samples, and refilling fuel tanks and the like. It won’t be a place which is continuously inhabited or where much science gets done. Think of an Apollo command module with an attached pup tent.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    When you start rambling, try to get a few of the basic facts right.

    It was MCI that sued AT&T over access to long distance. It really had nothing to do with the actual handset.

    And the cellular networks are driven by various standards that are set by international bodies. It’s the only way network operators such as, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc are able to get equipment from multiple vendors to inter-operate on their networks. Do you think GSM or WCDMA was just a bunch of letters thrown together by a couple of guys sitting at a bar ?

    And your glorious iPhone example follows the same business model as the previous market leaders Nokia and Motorola. Keep making minor tweaks to your base product in order to drive demand to the new model. Try to get your customer base into a continual upgrade cycle. That’s great, and it makes lots of money for the equipment maker. Not so great for the end user trying to cost justify a replacement for an item that already seems to work fine (unless the vendor artificially slows down your device of course).

  • Michael Halpern

    At least with SpaceX its more ” we can do it faster with taxpayer money but we will still attempt without,” with an occasional “here’s how we will get the non taxpayer money we need to do it,”

  • It’s just the nature of the technical problems we are trying to solve. Even with SpaceX it’s really slow. They said they could do crewed flight by 2014 with gov’t $ and by 2017 without. Here we are in 2018, they HAVE gov’t $ and no one is sure if they’ll get a flight in this year. While I think the effort will be worth it in the long run, these problems are just that hard and it takes gobs of money and time to solve them. This is a generational challenge, there is no silver bullet. 🙁

  • Michael Halpern

    A lot of that is a combination of politics and “space is hard” though Amos 6 is a bittersweet factor also CCdev has been under funded.
    They should at least fly uncrewed demo this year I don’t expect significant slippage there, crewed demo i think between December 2018 and February 2019 is a good bet, they are very close. A big help in keeping costs down and development times shorter is the divergence from “cost plus” and the trend of replacing it with Fixed Price when applicable. Cost Plus is only good when you expect your needs to change considerably mid development, and we are recognizing that, painfully

  • Michael Halpern

    And government as well as contractors getting used to and becoming overly reliant on Cost Plus, this is changing

  • Considering that old school Boeing and new school SpaceX are basically neck-and-neck, I don’t think that contracting is the silver bullet (as I said, I don’t there IS a silver bullet). As I said, per SpaceX itself, ZERO funding should have seen a crewed launch in 2017, anything more than that should have seen it earlier. Now we’re in 2018 – so that wasn’t the silver bullet either.

    I think we just need to accept the fact that this is hard and we are doing it for the future. Like building the pyramids hard. Or building a cathedral hard. Or building the Panama Canal hard. Will it cost WAY more than anticipated? Yes. Will it be late no matter what you do? Yes. Will it show a short term benefit the moment it’s available? Probably not. Will the effort serve countless generations and fundamentally change the world we live in? ABSOLUTELY!

  • Michael Halpern

    Although, Boeing already had their matured launch vehicle, SpaceX is finalizing F9

  • Either Falcon 9 is a mature system that was ready to human-rated, or it’s not. We can’t have it both ways. 🙂

    Commercial crew was a contract to build capsules and make existing launchers human-rated, it’s not a launch vehicle contract. We can’t make special excuses for SpaceX because Atlas has launched 75 times and Falcon 9 has ONLY launched 47. That’s plenty of launches at this point to understand the system.

    It’s easy to promise these things, and it’s hard to deliver, FOR EVERYONE. If the problem were THAT easy, then we’d have a half dozen suboritbal companies and another half dozen orbital companies launching people on a daily basis to the Moon and inner solar system.

    Is SpaceX awesome? Yes. Will they be successful? Of course. But they’ve made promises and commitments that they have to live up to now. They’re a government contractor now, and if they’re late, they need to get their knuckles rapped like anybody else.

  • windbourne

    competition by ppl with real goals.

  • windbourne

    No, I think that you are quite mistaken.
    The shuttle was more space station than BA-330. The shuttle had more life support; it had living quarters; it had its own engines; all in all, the shuttle was far more compete as a station than the BA-330 is today.

    And it not only moved around in space, but could land and take off.

  • windbourne

    NASA is not the one that loves Cost+. It is old space, combined with their lackeys in CONgress.

  • windbourne

    You really need to learn your history. Sprint was not part of the ATT break-up. It was a bunch of lawyers that formed MCI and did it PURPOSELY to break up ATT. And everything was kosher and easy enough for ANY of those companies to add their own products ( I know. I was there; I worked at Bell Labs when Fiorina destroyed us far more than Judge Green/MCI did). If Trump was here, he would finally have some right about your being full of false facts.

    Now, with that said, I never said that it required NASA to approach BA-330 to launch. That is your BS that you added. I said that

    Most ppl that have the money to go to space, will insist on some sort of vetting. NASA is the gold

    Back in the 70s and 80s, in the international world of telcom, Bell Labs was THE group to go to. Right now, for space, NASA is the gold standard. They are far more important than FAA.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    Yep. Shuttle was a reusable, temporary cargo carrying space station

  • Gerald Cecil

    I certainly agree with both of your comments … I was noting the probable outcome of “oversight”.

  • windbourne

    The difference between space craft vs station is simply intention. Ba330 being called station is correct, but just by adding a tug, for which it was designed for, turns it into a space craft, i.e. a vehicle to transport cargo/ppl.

  • windbourne

    Just thinking about this.
    Ideally, this team could do something that others can not do easily.
    In the none LIFE units, they could develop 2 of these.
    1 would be strictly for dealing with the habitat’s inside functions, such life support, Water/O2 storage, electricity production & storage, HVAC/thermal radiators, CPU processing, etc.
    The second would contain the external functions such as engine, both chemical and electric, along with fuel storage, avionics, its own electricity production/storage, etc.
    Now why separate? Because, multiple life supports could be added.
    Want to support 6 ppl? Add 1 unit.
    Want to bump up to say 10 ppl? Add a second unit.
    Want back up systems ? Simply add another unit.

  • Vladislaw

    “NASA into a “regulatory” Agency in place of the FAA CST.”

    I have said that so many times .. NASA is not a regulatory agency that is what DOT is for.

  • Vladislaw

    Robert Bigelow has stated that BA 330 is a stand alone space station. You should probably tell him he is wrong and his station is not a station>
    Start at 4:50 and you will hear him say it.

  • windbourne

    It is whatever u want it to be.