NASA has selected six U.S. companies to help advance the Journey to Mars by developing ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats.
NASA and industry partners will expand commercial development of space in low-Earth orbit while also improving deep space exploration capabilities to support more extensive human spaceflight missions.
Habitation systems provide a safe place for humans to live as we move beyond Earth on our Journey to Mars, NASA said.
The six partners will have up to approximately 24 months to develop ground prototypes and/or conduct concept studies for deep space habitats.
The contract award amounts are dependent on contract negotiations, and NASA has estimated the combined total of all the 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.
The ground prototypes will be used for three primary purposes: supporting 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 made the first NextSTEP selections in 2015, which include deep space habitation concept studies that also advance low-Earth orbit commercial capabilities.
Four companies were selected under that solicitation: Bigelow Aerospace LLC, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK.
The activities of these awards will inform the acquisition and deployment approach for the next phase of flight systems for deep space including important aspects, such as standards and interfaces, module configurations, and options for deployment.