New insights from companies in the growing space economy are helping NASA to chart a course for the future of commercial human spaceflight in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Input the companies provided to NASA as part of the studies will inform NASA’s future policies to support commercial activities that enable a robust LEO economy.
NASA selected the following companies to complete studies about the commercialization of LEO and the International Space Station, assessing the potential growth of a LEO economy and how to best stimulate private demand for commercial human spaceflight:
- Axiom Space, LLC, of Houston
- Blue Origin, LLC, of Kent, Washington
- The Boeing Company of Houston
- Deloitte Consulting of Manhattan Beach, California
- KBRWyle of Houston
- Lockheed Martin Corporation of Littleton, Colorado
- McKinsey & Company, Inc. of Washington, D.C.
- NanoRacks, LLC, of Webster, Texas
- Northrop Grumman of Dulles, Virginia
- Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado
- Space Adventures, Inc., of Vienna, Virginia
- Maxar Technologies, formerly SSL, Inc., of Palo Alto, California
These companies investigated what a commercially viable industry in LEO could look like, including: commercialization concepts and technical configurations for habitable platforms in LEO, either through the International Space Station or a free-flying platform; business plans that explore the viability of commercial destinations; and the role of government and evolution of the space station in the roadmap to commercialization of LEO. Observations from these studies revealed many potential markets that could be part of the future ecosystem in LEO.
The studies identified that commercial “destinations” could turn a profit from many areas: research and development similar to that seen today on the station as part of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory; in-space manufacturing of unique materials or products; video products for entertainment use including films, documentaries and sporting events; sponsorship and marketing; accommodations for space tourism; in-space assembly and servicing of large structures and satellites; and transportation of people and cargo to and from low-Earth orbit.
High costs for crew and cargo transportation continue to present a barrier to market entry for both company and consumer. One way to reduce transportation costs could be with economies of scale that could be achieved through a larger market. NASA could play a key role in helping stimulate and facilitate market growth by providing access to the space station to catalyze new markets, aid in technology development, and strengthen the burgeoning industry. Eventually NASA is expected to be a key customer to future commercially operated destinations in LEO.
NASA will continue to need LEO for microgravity research and testing that will enable the success of the agency’s plans to go forward to the Moon and Mars, including landing the first woman and next man on the Moon. Providing expanded opportunities for commercial activities at the space station could help catalyze and expand markets, enabling a robust economy in space for many businesses. The agency’s ultimate goal in LEO is to partner with industry to achieve a robust ecosystem in which NASA is one of many customers purchasing services and capabilities, at a much lower cost than today.
The International Space Station is a one-of-a-kind orbiting laboratory. For more than 18 years, humans have lived and worked aboard the complex conducting thousands of experiments in areas such as human research, biology, and physical science, as well as advanced technology development. Many of these experiments, conducted via the ISS National Laboratory, have been research and development with commercial objectives. New opportunities are needed to move beyond research and development, and the station will play an essential role in enabling those opportunities for new commercial markets needed to build a sustainable ecosystem in LEO.