The International Space Station. Photo: NASA

While NASA’s high-profile, expensive missions anchor the space agency’s plans for exploration, the agency is also supporting a number of private companies in their bids to commercialize space.

Driving the news: A number of NASA announcements in the past week have specifically broadened the roles the agency’s commercial partners will play in the future of spaceflight.

  • Twelve companies recently completed studies for NASA looking into how the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit in general might be used by private entities for commercial purposes.
  • Many of the companies — including Blue Origin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman — presented ideas for new, free-floating space stations that could play host to tourists and even manufacturing.
  • NASA awarded more than $253 million total to three companies tasked with flying the agency's science experiments to the Moon ahead of the 2024 human landing.
  • On Friday, NASA will announce “plans to open the International Space Station to expanded commercial activities” during an event at Nasdaq.

Background: NASA has long needed commercial partners to make its space-faring dreams come true. NASA supplies and experiments are currently delivered to the ISS by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman. Boeing and SpaceX hope to launch astronauts to the station for the agency within the next year.

The bottom line: If operations in low-Earth orbit can be given over to private entities — with NASA as a customer — agency administrator Jim Bridenstine says that could free the space agency up to figure out how to send people deeper into the solar system with the coming moon mission and eventually Mars.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022 — Trump's testing czar: Surge "is real" and not just caused by more tests
  2. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases
  3. Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave France imposes lockdown Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month.
  4. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.

In pictures: Storm Zeta churns inland after lashing Louisiana

Debris on the streets as then-Hurricane Zeta passes over in Arabi, Louisiana, on Oct. 28. It's the third hurricane to hit Louisiana in about two months, after Laura and Delta. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Zeta has killed at least two people, triggered flooding, downed powerlines and caused widespread outages since making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane on Wednesday.

The big picture: A record 11 named storms have made landfall in the U.S. this year. Zeta is the fifth named storm to do so in Louisiana in 2020, the most ever recorded. It weakened t0 a tropical storm early Thursday, as it continued to lash parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle with heavy rains and strong winds.

4 hours ago - World

Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases

Catholics go through containment protocols including body-temperature measurement and hands-sanitisation before entering the Saint Christopher Parish Church, Taipei City, Taiwan, in July. Photo: Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Taiwan on Thursday marked no locally transmitted coronavirus cases for 200 days, as the island of 23 million people's total number of infections reported stands at 550 and the COVID-19 death toll at seven.

Why it matters: Nowhere else has reached such a milestone. While COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S. and Europe, Taiwan's last locally transmitted case was on April 12. Experts credit tightly regulated travel, early border closure, "rigorous contact tracing, technology-enforced quarantine and universal mask wearing" and the island state's previous experience with the SARS virus for the achievement, per Bloomberg.

Go deeper: As Taiwan's profile rises, so does risk of conflict with China