Design Engineering

NASA chooses six companies to develop deep space habitat prototypes


General Aerospace Mars NASA space exploration

These partners have approximately 24 months to develop ground prototypes that will be safe for humans to live on a journey to Mars.

NASA is looking to expand into commercial development of space. The space agency is doing so by partnering with a number of companies and industry experts to design ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats.

NASA Space Habitat

Concept image of the interior of a deep space habitat. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Through partnerships enabled by the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement, Appendix A, NASA and industry partners will develop habitation systems that will be safe for humans to live on a journey to Mars.

“NASA is on an ambitious expansion of human spaceflight, including the Journey to Mars, and we’re utilizing the innovation, skill and knowledge of both the government and private sectors,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems. “The next human exploration capabilities needed beyond the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule are deep space, long duration habitation and in-space propulsion. We are now adding focus and specifics on the deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth.”

Six companies were selected to develop these habitat concepts: Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas; Boeing of Pasadena, Texas; Lockheed Martin of Denver; Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia; Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems of Louisville, Colorado; and NanoRacks of Webster, Texas.


These partners have approximately 24 months to develop ground prototypes for the deep space habitats. The primary purpose of the prototypes will be to support integrated systems testing, human factors and operations testing and to help define overall system functionality.

These are important activities as they help define the design standards, common interfaces, and requirements while reducing risks for the final flight systems that will come after this phase.

NASA has estimated the combined total of all the contract awards, covering work in 2016 and 2017, will be approximately $65 million, with additional efforts and funding continuing into 2018. Selected partners are required to contribute at least 30 percent of the cost of the overall proposed effort.

This round of NextSTEP selections are part of a phased approach that will catalyze commercial investment in low-Earth orbit and lead to an operational deep space habitation capability for missions in the area of space near the moon, which will serve as the proving ground for Mars during the 2020s.


Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories