NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has discussed two initiatives the space agency has launched in an effort to establish the foundation for NASA's Journey to Mars project and other deep space missions.
Bolden wrote in a blog post published Tuesday that NASA established partnerships with private companies to advance research projects in propulsion, habitation systems and small satellites as part of the broad agency announcement for the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program.
In August, NASA awarded six companies contracts worth up to $65 million combined to build ground prototypes for deep space habitats as part of the second phase of the NextSTEP program.
The agency made the awards more than a year after it picked seven companies to perform work on space habitat projects as part of the initial NextSTEP program.
Bolden noted that NASA also has begun to solicit concepts from industry on the potential use of a docking port on the International Space Station as part of the agency's second initiative.
The agency expects the initiative to help pave the way for future commercial space stations designed to take over for the ISS once the space laboratory concludes its mission in the 2020s, he wrote.
NASA plans to evaluate industry responses from the solicitation in the fall of 2016 in order to select companies that will build modules for potential integration with the ISS, Bolden added.