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NASA Seeks Commercial Ideas for Space Station

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 26, 2016
Filed under , ,
International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The International Space Station is a resource unlike any other. Already designated a U.S. National Laboratory with more than 300 active research experiments on board, NASA is seeking creative input from industry for new uses of the space station’s one-of-a-kind capabilities.

A request for information (RFI) released this month seeks to understand which unique ISS capabilities can be used to boost commercial activity and foster a self-sustaining marketplace in low-Earth orbit (LEO). The agency also is looking for industry recommendations on potential contract or agreement structures to make it simpler to enable use of these capabilities.

“The space station was designed with what we thought was a full set of utilization capabilities. However, we are finding that industry is more innovative than we’d imagined and has ideas to use station in ways we never envisioned for research or commercial activities,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “We’re asking industry to help us understand how best to offer these unique capabilities, such as unused attachment ports or non-standard attachment sites, to commercial users. I’m looking forward to seeing how the private sector responds.”

This is a request for information only and does not guarantee a future request for proposals; however, NASA will use the results of the RFI to guide strategic planning to meet the agency’s objective for developing a robust, self-sustaining marketplace in LEO.

Respondents should consider current International Space Station resources, market demand and private funding considerations. RFI responses are requested by 5 p.m. EDT July 29, 2016.

36 responses to “NASA Seeks Commercial Ideas for Space Station”

  1. mzungu says:

    I thought that’s what CASIS was supposed to do… Guess that’s not working out. 😛

    Auction it off to the highest bidder would be my suggestion…. Get a few million for it, and let the bidder pay for the maintenance, have them pay to launch off what ever is needed to replace the Ruski’s hardware, and let Amazon or Bigelo, SpaceX, or who ever….go do what ever with it.

    • Jeff2Space says:

      This is a bit different in that NASA is talking about letting a commercial module berth with ISS rather than letting experiments be performed inside NASA owned modules.

      • mzungu says:

        I know…. but in the end NASA is just ending up creating just another useless white collar welfare program like CASIS. maybe because their buddies in CASIS sense that Congress is on to them, and may shut them down soon, so they need some re-branding.

        The last time anyone did something creative on ISS, like them Russian tourists, they shut that down pretty quick… . 😀

        • P.K. Sink says:

          So…in the perfect world of your imagination…what would YOU like to see NASA spending its time and our money doing?

          • mzungu says:

            More robotic missions.

            The related tech developed would have far reaching real world benefit here back on earth here. There is more publicity generated from these probes than all of ISS combined in the last 20 years. Bet ya the public can remember the probe’s name, but don’t know a single astronaut’s name. It’s a Win-Win.

          • P.K. Sink says:

            OK. Those robotic missions are awesome. And I think that most of us can agree that NASA can’t mount human missions to space for any reasonable amount of money. But do you get excited thinking about Musk and Bezos doing it, with NASA’s help, for a lot less?

          • mzungu says:

            I get exited about rocket launches…. putting com sats for people to use. Not so much shipping human to LEO to do house maintenance, where there is very little technology payback back home for the tax payers.

          • P.K. Sink says:

            I guess that I’ve just watched too many ridiculous Sci Fi movies and shows. I’m hooked on human spaceflight. But Musk wants to give us a backup population off earth, and Bezos wants to move manufacturing off earth. Dumb ideas?

          • JamesG says:

            General mfg. off Earth isn’t going to happen for a LONG time, if ever. Stuff used ISRU and exotic, specialty products (even if its just “Authentic Moon Rocks!”) yeah. But you’re never gonna order a pair of sneakers made in LEO and then have them deorbited to your front porch.

          • P.K. Sink says:

            Yeah. Bezos hasn’t really fleshed out his ideas, as far as I’ve seen. But, if you, at some point, get a habitat with artificial gravity, then almost anything is possible. Especially if there is money to be made.

          • mzungu says:

            Dumb. For the next 50+ years, at least. After that… maybe. 😀 But I been labeled as being too practical before. 😀

          • JamesG says:

            Practical. Boring. Almost easy.

            MSF is where the challenge is. Or should be.

          • mzungu says:

            Unpractical things tend to have a short life span, or sinks like the Lynx or SS2…

          • JamesG says:

            If we aren’t going to try impractical things, we might as well head back to the cave.

    • P.K. Sink says:

      That’s a little extreme, don’t you think?

      • JamesG says:

        Immediately? Yeah. But post 202?, when the ISS partners will either be wanting to move on to some new exercise in wealth redistribution, simply can’t afford to maintain it, or some strange combination of both.

        • P.K. Sink says:

          “move on to some new exercise in wealth redistribution”

          That’s an interesting thought. Please expand on that a bit.

          • JamesG says:

            Finished projects in orbit do not pay the bills of the mil-industrial-complex.

          • P.K. Sink says:

            True. So is that wealth redistribution from the taxpayer to the mil-ind-complex? And is that always bad?

          • JamesG says:

            What is the US national debt again?

          • P.K. Sink says:

            The national dept is scary. But its like global warming. And terrorism. There doesn’t seem to be much that we can do about them. We just aren’t feeling enough pain yet to get serious.

          • windbourne says:

            But that is not accurate.
            We have the ability to control our deficit/debt.
            We have the ability to bring down CO2, but are unwilling to since it means that China and 3rd world will have to. .
            And as to terrorism, we can not control anything there.

            I am hoping that things will change with next congress.

          • P.K. Sink says:

            Sure…we know how to do those things. But, in the real world of politics and foreign relations, we are incapable of making them happen at this time.

            Terrorism? Make it government policy that as many well trained and law abiding citizens as possible have concealed weapons

            As for the next congress…good luck with that.

      • mzungu says:

        Yeah, I agree. I don’t see that happening either. 😀 1st, NASA would’t let it go. 2nd, No one with any business sense is dumb enuf to buy it. 😛

        It is prob the best thing that NASA could of done to free itself from this huge budget hungry hog to do something else like launching a few more probes than to develop another flavor of Tang. LOL

        • JamesG says:

          Space tourism most likely. With maybe a side of research and as a launch pad for nanosats.

          Gut the modules of all that sciency stuff. Refit it with a more compact (and cheaper) ECLSS and slick interior decorating.
          Pack crew Dragons and Soyuz with rich people and let them spend a week or so pretending to be doing “astronaut stuff” while being catered to by teleoperated butlers.

          • mzungu says:

            Hahaha…. I am just thinking someone on the internet can prob make use of that and make billions making the 1st Space Porn or Space Cat video. That’s when you know you really commercialized SPACE!! Hahahah

          • JamesG says:

            Oh I’m sure quite a few of those reserved seats on VG’s SS2 are for a “cinematic team”.

          • mzungu says:

            Don’t know about that, but with just a few minutes in 0g, better get it up and running quick…. 😀

  2. windbourne says:

    Several thoughts:
    1) the real value of iss should have been variable G research on life, as well as developing and testing systems. In particular, they really need to build a new shower similar to what Skylab had. Dish and clothes washing? Seems like if sending 10-50 ppl at a time to Mars, these would be useful.
    2) Bigelow has it correct that other nations want to start a space program. If Bigelow and the other company were to put up habs or 1 hab and 1 lab, then they could help uae, Sweden, etc to start their space programs.
    For spacex and Boeing, they can send 7 and 5 ppl respectively. The extras can be assigned to these 2 systems. With a ba330 as a hab system, it would enable shifts on the iss with other space programs paying to be on here.
    3) until we have multiple stations and cheaper space access, it really makes little sense to do mass manufacturing up there. Oddly, the manufacturing that can be done in a vacuum really belongs up there.

    • Hug Doug says:

      Just to nitpick – Boeing can put 7 seats in Starliner, both Dragon and Starliner are designed to hold 7 seats, but they both are replacing seats with cargo capacity for NASA’s ISS crew missions.

      • windbourne says:

        I know that originally Boeing was doing 7, but I thought I saw something that said that they decided that they could only take 5.
        Hopefully, I misunderstood that.

  3. Charles Lurio says:

    Focus here, guys. This is a very important RFI, because we need commercially feasible stations in LEO and industry hasn’t gotten any “magic application” to justify their cost yet. With NextSTEP, NASA is funded to do modules for beyond LEO that fit right into the SLS/Orion pork complex. The RFI has no money, but it recognizes that to get to those commercial stations it would be useful to migrate and expand much of the commercial work on ISS onto a Bigelow or Axiom module.

    The best way to have a real “journey to mars” vs. NASA’s faux version is to have vigorous, commercial, expanding space commerce in LEO where we can generate much of the needed technology at a sustainable price, not something that requires NASA anchor-tenancy and annual billions just to keep operating – like ISS.

    • ThomasLMatula says:

      Given NASA’s 30+ year record of space commerce failures I have zero confidence this will turn out any different.

      As for the ISS… Really first you identify commercial markets, then you build your facility. You don’t build it first then hope to find commercial applications.

    • windbourne says:

      charles, manufacturing, is really not going to come to space, until prices are lowered more. The only way to do this, is to have plenty of customers there.
      So, how do you get there?
      We need to not focus on manufacturing. Instead, we need to focus on helping other nation’s space programs. If SpaceX, Blue Origin, ULA, and perhaps ariane were to be doing plenty of runs to one of several space stations, helping these other nations bring up their space programs, then all can help with going to the moon and mars. By having many more nations participate, it makes it possible for the private space stations.

      • duheagle says:

        It’s not like it’s somehow impossible to do both at once. To the extent that anything has to be prioritized, though, I think manufacturing or any other private enterprise activity should come before all this internationalist hands-across-the-sea stuff.

        The biggest sovereign space program in the world is that of the U.S. It will always be budget constrained such that it simply cannot be the primary driver of human presence in space. The same will be true, only more so, of the sovereign space programs of other, smaller nations.

        Space-based business enterprises have the potential to grow quickly without obvious limits. Sovereign space programs don’t. If the objective is to settle the solar system, business must lead the way because governments, even in combination, lack the means and always will.

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