The private space industry wants to turn the low-orbit into a commercial hub with habitats and platforms for future space travelers.
NASA recently released short proposal from 12 companies, including Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, about how to make space a destination for research and manufacturing. The space agency wanted these ideas in the hopes of transitioning Low Earth Orbit, or LEO, operations to the commercial sector in the next decade.
The United States is ending direct government funding of the International Space Station by 2024.
Commercial Companies To Take Over Earth's Low Orbit
The proposals, released on the space agency's website, revealed different ways by which commercial companies could take over operations in low orbit. Blue Origin, for example, wants to construct its own space station by reusing shells from rocket launches. Meanwhile, Axiom suggested a commercial module that would attach to the ISS for a couple of years before breaking away to form an independent private station.
Sierra Nevada Corporation would provide a Crewed Dream Chaser and an Uncrewed Dream Chaser that will transport humans and cargo to space.
NASA's Future Space Plans
While the United States is moving away from the ISS, NASA still wants access to the Earth's low-orbit. The space agency expects to be a frequent customer to these private space ventures.
"Providing expanded opportunities for commercial activities at the space station could help catalyze and expand markets, enabling a robust economy in space for many businesses," a press release explained. "The agency's ultimate goal in low Earth orbit is to partner with industry to achieve a robust ecosystem in which NASA is one of many customers purchasing services and capabilities, at a much lower cost than today."
The studies, for now, remain as concepts given that NASA is yet to say whether it will move forward with any of the proposals.
The ISS has been in operation for the past 18 years. While the United States will be moving away from the Low Earth Orbit, the scientific research and experiments in space will continue. A smaller space station called the Gateway in the vicinity of the moon is currently in development and will serve as the jumping-off point for astronauts who want to explore the lunar surface or travel to Mars.