NASA’s Vision for Low-Earth Orbit Economy

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — A robust and competitive low-Earth orbit (LEO) economy is vital to continued progress in space. The United States is committed to encouraging and facilitating the growth of the U.S. commercial space sector that supports U.S. needs, is globally competitive, and advances U.S. leadership in the next generation of new markets and innovation-driven entrepreneurship.

NASA has developed a long-term vision to achieve this goal where, one day, NASA will become one of many customers in low-Earth orbit. This plan builds on, uses the capabilities of, and applies the lessons learned from over a decade of work and experience with commercial companies.

This plan, entitled NASA’s Plan for Commercial LEO Development, addresses supply, demand, and lays out steps to date that have been taken. It also includes detailed steps that will be taken in the near-term, mid-term, and long-term (see graphic below). NASA applied recommendations provided by 12 companies from recent market studies while developing this plan. The companies assessed the potential growth of a low-Earth orbit economy and how to best stimulate private demand for commercial human spaceflight and other commercial and marketing activities.

In the near term, NASA developed a five-point plan building on the work of the last decade. These plans have all developed opportunities, policies and information that can be found on this website.

  1. NASA established a commercial use and pricing policy for the International Space Station (ISS) that will enable companies to reduce uncertainty and build business plans as they seek to perform purely commercial activities, including marketing;
  2. NASA has announced the intent to enable flight of private astronauts to the ISS with the first mission as early as 2020, including a solicitation as a mechanism to enable the assessment and approval of these missions;
  3. NASA has initiated a process for developing commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, including the overall strategy, timeline, and a synopsis for the solicitation of the ISS’s Node 2 Forward Port;
  4. NASA has laid out a plan to pursue opportunities to stimulate scalable and sustainable demand for LEO destinations including solicitations with calls for in-space manufacturing and regenerative medicine flight demonstrations, as well as capability enhancements for the ISS National Lab;
  5. NASA has updated a white paper quantifying the agency’s long term needs in LEO.

To evaluate this plan and the effectiveness, NASA is seeking feedback from industry and others through a Request for Information (RFI) on this plan and the five steps that have been outlined above by 07/03/2019.

  • Jeff Smith

    This is clearly the right path (can’t say ‘plan’ because there aren’t any details), and I’m glad NASA has at stated their support for it. But, it should be pretty clear to anyone this was the ONLY realistic path all along. If space development is gonna happen, there has to be a gradual shift from sole-government demand/usage to more and more commercial uses.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I have to agree with you but everything is dependent on the private sector finding profitable ways to use LEO and space in general. They’re going to have to find their own financing as well. However it goes, some things never change. There has to be a need identified, then space has to be the best or most profitable place to meet that need. Finally, you have to be able to do it profitably without government subsidies. Good luck.

  • therealdmt

    There may be a place for government subsidies, and certainly for the government-provided infrastructure and the government as a customer. Lots of Earthside business have government support. Lots and lots. Where would your supermarket be without government roads, for one.

    Nevertheless, as you say, commercial space will have to find a profitable area or areas to attract investment. I don’t see too many areas that are going to be able to make a profit when including the expense of keeping a staff of humans alive, healthy and productive (in space). In fact, the only thing that would actually absolutely require humans to be in space is…humans in space. In other words, tourism, vacation homes, eventually residences. Human exploration (the first person to climb Olympus Mons has to be…a person. For some things, a robot, by definition, just won’t do. Settlements

  • P.K. Sink

    …this was the ONLY realistic path all along…

    Too true. But I’m shocked at how many people are repelled by the idea of “rich tourists” and “evil capitalism” and “filthy advertising” and “imperialistic colonialism” and “environmental destruction” etc. in pristine space. Go figure.

  • Robert G. Oler

    its hard to see how any human activities in space start much less continue without serious government subsidies. and as you say clearly this is the correct path. they just need to move farther and faster

  • Jeff Smith

    Subsidies will certainly be a part of this for some time to come, likely forever (as Airbus and the taxpayers of WA would argue about your former employer). My personal opinion is that while NASA can encourage this, they probably can’t affect the speed too much. It’ll depend on companies/groups identifying opportunities and developing products/services. This will now likely move at the ‘speed of business’, which is kinda slow in space…

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I don’t tend to think of infrastructure as a subsidy but I will concede that part of it. Governments will have a vital interest in things like space traffic control and, if private industry really takes hold, eventually some sort of on-orbit SAR. Space junk removal will also fall on the shoulders of governments. As of center-left Democrat, however, it concerns me that so many people on this site whose positions fall to the right of my own have no trouble asking the American taxpayer to help subsidize their private business venture. As I said, it will be up to market forces to either make or break space-based private industry. Governments should pay for what they need and let the market handle the rest.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    The “rich tourists” can do what they want as long as they pay the entire cost of the enterprise and leave their campsites clean.

  • Terry Stetler

    Suborbital point to point for beginners, and not just SpaceX. From there, who knows? No one in 1916 believed airplanes would amount to a hill of beans either.

  • Robert G. Oler

    there is nothing wrong with subsidies…the governments of free nations exist to subsidize through collective effort a positive and prosperous way of life for the entire country

    Mississippi that keen bastion of individual liberty would likely have no paved roads or have them only in the very wealthy parts of it…if tehre were no federal subsidies…not to mention a rocket plant 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    not going to happen anytime soon…

  • Robert G. Oler

    a pretty good read. it is an idea as old as the space station itself…anchor tenant but its time might finally have come