Surviving in the wilderness of space takes more than a sleeping bag and a packet of wet wipes, and so to explore how humanity can stay alive in the cold dark beyond, NASA is canvassing designs for new deep space habitats. The agency's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program ask private companies to build ground-based prototypes of various modules, meeting a number of criteria from basic life support to fire safety tech and radiation mitigation.
ground prototypes will allow NASA to test the habitats
Six partners have been selected for the NextSTEP program, now in its second iteration. These include a number of familiar names from the US aerospace industry: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems, Bigelow Aerospace, and Nanoracks. Some of these firms will be building habitation modules, while others will focus on communication infrastructure, propulsion systems, and other key aspects of deep space survival.
NASA is hoping these habitats will eventually be part of its crewed mission to Mars in the 2030s, an ambition that has occupied the space agency for the last six years. But before NASA sorts out living arrangements for this mission, it's going to need to make sure the rockets it uses are also up to scratch. A federal report on NASA's Mars mission released this month cast doubts on this, suggesting that the agency's Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule won't meet their development schedules and that current launch dates for the rockets are overly ambitious. As with the most ambitious aerospace plans, whatever happens next, will happen slowly, playing out over years to come.