NASA unveiled the Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) project in March, with plans to award a hefty sum up to $400 million in total to as many as four companies in the fourth quarter of 2021 to begin work on private space stations.
The agency is also seeking to replicate the success of its Commercial Crew programs and Commercial Cargo. Those programs saw three companies take over for NASA to send cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.
NASA has transferred some responsibilities to private companies, with the agency paying SpaceX and Northrop Grumman to send cargo spacecraft to the SpaceX and ISS and Boeing to launch astronauts. In a briefing, Phil McAlister, NASA commercial LEO Director highlighted that NASA had full ownership of all three activities previously.
“If it were to always remain that way, our aspirations in low Earth orbit would always be limited by the size of NASA’s budget,” said Phil McAlister. “By bringing the private sector into these sections and into these areas, as suppliers and users, you expand the pot, and you have more people in low Earth orbit.”