NASA Seeks Proposals on Docking Commercial Module to Space Station

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly years after it first sought input on the subject, NASA is asking U.S. industry for proposals on commercial modules to dock to the International Space Station (ISS).

The space agency issued a call for proposals on Friday for commercial destination development at ISS. A key element of the solicitation is the eventual ability to attach a commercial module to the station’s Node 2 (Harmony) module.

In the solicitation, NASA lays out a multi-part process for the multiple proposals it plans to select:

  • Task Order 1 for concept and business plan development;
  • Task Order 2 to begin the early design phase and mature business plan
  • subsequent task orders and a prioritization decision for use of the Harmony docking port.

“Following a port prioritization decision, the awardee will complete Design, Development, Test, and Evaluation (DDT&E) and deliver the Commercial Element(s) to ISS in order to conduct a long-duration demonstration of commercial products and services ultimately leading to a self-sustaining Commercial Destination to serve both NASA and non-NASA needs,” the solicitation stated.

“NASA currently envisions any hardware developed for this action will be fully owned and operated by the developer through completion of an industry partner/NASA spaceflight demonstration,” the document added.

The request for proposals is part of a broader effort NASA is making to commercialize the space station as it focuses on sending astronauts back to the moon by 2024.

“An important part of NASA’s strategy is to stimulate the commercial space industry while leveraging those same commercial capabilities through partnerships and future contracts to deliver mission capabilities,” the solicitation said.

“A key component of the partnership model is that it provides an opportunity for NASA and industry to partner to develop capabilities that meet NASA human space exploration objectives to support more extensive human space flight missions while also supporting industry commercialization plans for expanding the frontiers of future opportunities in space,” the document added.

The space agency previously issued a request for information (RFI) in October 2016 for industry input on commercial modules and other uses of the space station. NASA received responses from 11 companies to the RFI in fall 2016.

Axiom Space proposed a manufacturing facility that could be spun off as the core of an independent space station after ISS is decommissioned. Bigelow Aerospace proposed attaching its expandable BA330 module to the station.