NASA has issued a draft solicitation for the development of a commercially developed free flyer (FF) that would facilitate research, experiments and other activities in Earth orbit.
“This Statement of Work (SOW) requires the Contractor to develop, launch, and operate a FF to conduct demonstrations of capabilities and services as a self-sustaining Commercial Destination in LEO,” the solicitation said.
“The Contractor will provide data deliverables and insight to demonstrate habitability, attitude control, orbit maintenance, accommodations for Visiting Vehicles (VV) to dock, sustainability, and research and technology development capabilities on the FF,” the document.
The draft solicitation is part of NASA’s effort to transition off the International Space Station to commercial platforms in the mid-2020’s. The station — which is a partnership with Canada, Europe, Japan and Russia — is only funded through 2024.
There have been discussions within the U.S. government about extending operations beyond that deadline. It is not clear whether the international partners will agree.
The year 2024 is also when the Trump Administration is aiming to return astronauts to the surface of the moon. NASA has been busy lobbying the international ISS partners and other countries to support the space agency’s Artemis moon program.
NASA officials want the the commercial sector to pick up the slack in Earth orbit once ISS is retired. The space agency wants to use the station for experiments and to develop technologies, but it does not want to be the anchor tenant responsible for paying the bulk of the costs.