NASA wants to help private space stations get off the ground

NASA is taking more steps to support new commercial space stations in low Earth orbit (LEO).

NASA held an online industry briefing about”commercial LEO destinations” Tuesday (March 23) to solicit feedback on its plan to date, as the agency thinks about its next crewed exploration steps in near-Earth space.

With the International Space Station (ISS) expected to retire as early as 2024 — or possibly in 2028, if the multinational partners agree — NASA wants to involve industry in a new generation of space stations. NASA is also considering having the ISS partners participate in a new commercial space station, although such negotiations are at an early stage given how novel the idea is.

Related: How the International Space Station will die

“ISS is an amazing system, but unfortunately it won’t last forever; it could experience an unrecoverable anomaly at any time,” Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA headquarters, said in Tuesday’s briefing.

“Pretty much any space initiative can take a while, and longer than you might hope, so we really do feel like the time to get started is now, when the ISS is still in good health and providing good capability across the board,” he said. 

The agency’s newly announced Commercial LEO Development program is expected to release the first draft announcement of proposals in April, with a final version following in May. The plan is to bring the proposed commercial space stations to the preliminary design review stage by the end of fiscal year 2025 — and for NASA to discuss potential customers and destinations for the orbiting facilities. (Fiscal year 2025 runs from Oct. 1, 2024 through Sept. 30, 2025.)

“The way we see the transition [from ISS] is, we’re not going to just turn off the lights one day,” McAlister said. “We’re going to have an overlap period where