NASA Plans to Commercialize ISS

NASA released a draft plan this week to promote commercialization of the International Space Station (ISS) as a way to reduce NASA’s costs and encourage other commercial use.

The long term of the plan is “to establish the foundation for a marketplace and stimulate a national economy for space products and services in low-Earth orbit, where both demand and supply are dominated by the private sector.”

In the short term, NASA should work with private industry to establish several “pathfinder” commercial projects that involve the ISS, ranging from sponsorship and advertising opportunities to selling imagery and other proprietary proposals.

The plan divides commercial opportunities into three sections: known commercial users, such as material science and remote sensing; operations, including flight control and logistics; and adding new resources, such as free flyers and modules.

Several specific proposals cited in a portion of the draft report include commercial sponsorship of portions of the station, in a model similar to that used by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) to help fund its programming. In a similar vein, the report also suggests flying commercial memorabilia to and from ISS for later sale.

Other proposals include the sale of imagery of the Earth from ISS, auctions of payload space, and setting up a commercial service to fly educational payloads on ISS.

Several other proprietary proposals, currently in negotation in private industry, were briefly outlined. They include providing an on-orbit research facility and supporting ground operations.

The report also outlined a number of other follow-up studies that should be carried out. The plans suggests that a non-governmental organization be created to ovsersee the American utilization and development of the space station.

The plan was warmly received by those who have normally been critical of NASA’s efforts. “The old plan for running ISS was a disaster for opening space to the people and exploring the solar system,” said Rick Tumlinson, president of the Space Frontier Foundation. “We are glad to see they decided to bring in the private sector to do what it does best, so NASA can go do what it does best, science and exploration. This is great news.”