NASA awarded a $127 million dollar contract to build a robotic gas station in space to a California company Monday.
The company, called Space Systems/Loral, must have the station ready to launch within a three-year period, then be ready to operate it for another two years. The intended launch date is in 2020.
The space station will be equipped with the tools and fuel needed to service satellites currently in orbit.
Funding for the gas station will come from the space agency’s Satellite Servicing Projects Division at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
NASA has recently been much more accepting of private sector-provided payloads and technical expertise.
The space agency published a request for aerospace contractors to save its troubled Asteroid Redirect Mission. NASA planned to launch a probe in 2021 which would drag an asteroid near the moon. In 2028, NASA will send astronauts to retrieve samples from the asteroid. However, the agency ran into numerous technological problems which required private sector help as the mission budget exceeded caps.
Projected costs increased from $1.25 billion to $1.4 billion, Spaceref.com notes. The government claims the mission’s budget will be extremely limited. Scientists repeatedly argue that the mission is uninspiring and scientifically pointless.
NASA funded a private space company, Sierra Nevada, which began testing the world’s first private, pilot-less space shuttle in July. Additionally, SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and several other companies are making huge advancements in reusable rocketry in recent years, which has the potential to greatly lower the costs of getting into space.
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