NASA Unveils Partnerships And Concept Art For Deep Space Habitats

Astronauts could call one of these home sweet space-home

Ever since they started cramming grown men and women into tin cans and jettisoning them beyond Earth's atmosphere 55 years ago, NASA's looked for ways to make living and working in space not just possible, but sustainable and comfortable for longer hauls.

With the Orion crew preparing to strap onto the most powerful rocket in the world and head for deep space, NASA is beefing up its habitat game. They've selected six aerospace contractors as partners to participate in the second phased of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP). "The NextSTEP partnerships are a large contribution to the dual objectives of advancing deep space habitation development and stimulating commercial activities in low-Earth orbit," Jason Crusan, Director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters, said in the annoucement.

A good hab is made of — very basically — a pressurized volume, environmental control and life support systems, docking capabilities, and a whole lot of fireproofing. The six U.S. companies chosen to prototype their concepts will explore these components, as well as develop new technologies that'll make life in space easier and more scientifically fruitful.

The usual suspects (Boeing, Lockheed, Bigelow, Sierra Nevada) made the list, along with a few less-than-household name players including Texas-based NanoRacks and Orbital ATK.

NanoRacks
NanoRacks, in partnership with Space Systems Loral and the United Launch Alliance will explore how a launch vehicle's upper stage could be converted into a habitable volume in space.NanoRacks
Sierra Nevada Corporation
Based on its Dream Chaser cargo module, Sierra Nevada's modular long-duration hab will involve several components: a large inflatable fabric environment module, an Environmental Control and Life Support system, and a propulsion system. They'll use this proof-of-concept build to test how each part seamlessly comes together in deep space.Sierra Nevada Corporation
Orbital ATK
Orbital ATK's cislunar habitat concept, based on the Cygnus spacecraft that currently services the space station, gets a mission upgrade for Mars testing.Orbital ATK
Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin brings a refurbished multi-purpose logistics module prototype to the table. Aside from designing a full-scale habitat prototype, their work will demonstrate communication between hab crew and Orion.They'll also use virtual prototyping to explore the hab while they tweak its form.Lockheed Martin
Boeing
Boeing has 15 years of International Space Station operations on its resume, so they've got the space-life down. Their full-scale habitat will focus on sustaining life and work for even longer periods.Boeing
Bigelow Aerospace LLC
Bigelow's set to test their XBASE (Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement). Along with deep space work, it'll serve as a basis for commercialization in low-Earth orbit, building on the visiting vehicle design of their B-330 expandable spacecraft.Bigelow Aerospace LLC