Today’s Tidbits: July 13, 2021

Today’s Tidbits: July 13, 2021

Here are’s tidbits for July 13, 2021: defense appropriations bill clears House committee; NASA seeks Commercial LEO Development proposals; three companies win NASA/DOE nuclear thermal propulsion concept contracts. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Defense Appropriations Bill Clears House Committee

The House Appropriations Committee approved the FY2022 defense appropriations bill today. No space-related amendments were adopted.

The committee cut $685.5 million from the $17.5 billion request for the U.S. Space Force, the largest portion of which ($492 million) was for classified programs. The report accompanying the bill criticizes the lack of progress in improving acquisition of space systems and has particularly strong language about “unrealistic cost and schedule estimates” for the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) missile warning system.

NASA Seeks Commercial LEO Development Proposals

Illustration of Sierra Space’s Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) Habitat. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation.

NASA has released the final announcement seeking proposals for building commercial low Earth orbit (LEO) space facilities to replace the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is getting old. The first module was launched in 1998 and it has been permanently occupied by successive international crews since November 2000.

Instead of building another one itself, NASA wants commercial companies to build their own — probably smaller — space stations through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), with NASA as just one of many customers. It is the same acquisition model NASA used for the commercial cargo and commercial crew systems that now support the ISS.

Illlustration of Axiom Station. Credit: Axiom Space.

The Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) solicitation will be done in two phases. This announcement is for Phase 1: formulation and design of CLD capabilities. Proposals are due by August 26, 2021 for $400 million over four years (FY2022-2025) that will fund two-four milestone-based Space Act Agreements. Phase 2 is a “potential competitive procurement” of services to transport NASA crews, payloads, and equipment to, and accommodation on, a CLD, and return to Earth, as well as waste disposal.

Among the companies already planning to build commercial LEO space stations are Axiom Space and Sierra Space, a subsdiary of Sierra Nevada Corporation.

Three Companies Win NASA/DOE Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Contracts

NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) are partnering for the development of nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) systems that many see as a game-changer for exploration of the solar system, particularly human trips to Mars. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine just completed a study of NTP and nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) at NASA’s request.

Although NASA is keen on developing NTP, it did not request any money for it in FY2022. NASA is proceeding as though it will get some, however.  Indeed, Congress routintely adds funding for NTP development and the House Appropriations Committee is poised to add $110 million.

Today the agency announced the winners of three 12-month $5 million contracts for reactor design concepts. At the American Astronautical Society’s John Glenn Memorial Symposium this morning, Jim Reuter, NASA Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, showed this slide summarizing the awards to BWXT, General Dynamics, and Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies.

The contracts are being awarded through DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the nation’s national lab for nuclear energy research and development.

INL will review the concepts and proposals and make recommendations to NASA, which then will establish the basis for future technology design and development efforts.

In a press release, Reuter said “These design contracts are an important step towards tangible reactor hardware that could one day propel new missions and exciting discoveries.”

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