White House to allow ISS commercialization, including tourists

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Capitalism in space: The White House today released an interim proposal [pdf] that would allow private enterprise on ISS, including allowing American private companies to fly tourists to the station.

A new interim directive from NASA allows private companies to buy time and space on the ISS for producing, marketing, or testing their products. It also allows those companies to use resources on the ISS for commercial purposes, even making use of NASA astronauts’ time and expertise (but not their likeness). If companies want, they can even send their own astronauts to the ISS, starting as early as 2020, but all of these activities come with a hefty price tag.

This fits with the Trump administration’s overall push to shift the American space effort from a NASA “program” to an independent and profitable American space industry.

Will this work? I cannot see how it can’t. At a minimum, it will tell us if there really is a viable market for space tourism and industry on the space station.

For the Russians this is another disaster. They had planned to sell the available seats on their Soyuz, no longer used by NASA astronauts, to tourists. It is very likely that business will shift to the U.S. manned capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing.



  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “Will this work? I cannot see how it can’t. At a minimum, it will tell us if there really is a viable market for space tourism and industry on the space station.

    Although this may tell us something about market viability, it presents yet another problem. Already there is much concern that commercial companies will have trouble operating space habitats and orbital laboratories as long as the ISS is still operational. The article suggests that NASA is planning on continuing ISS operations for another 10 years, and this plan that virtually duplicates the commercial plans removes many of the advantages that the commercial operators had over the limitations of the ISS. A question is: since Bigelow is ready to put up a space habitat in the next three years (a decade later than planned a decade ago), how much business will be left over from the ISS for them to survive until ISS is decommissioned?

    The article references a study that Robert recently wrote about, and one of the findings from McKinsey warns of a market mismatch between supply and demand (too many modules, not enough occupants or vice versa.

    I hope that this announcement is an attempt to prevent such a mismatch and not an inadvertent creation of that mismatch. McKinsey also suggested that:
    NASA could aim to take specific actions that (a) stimulate demand for human spaceflight and other LEO industrial applications; (b) encourage the number of habitats launched to match demand through greater transparency; and (c) provide a conducive environment for US commercial activities in LEO” With luck, this is NASA’s way of taking that aim.

    I am hopeful that Axiom, Bigelow, and Ixion thrive in the coming decade so that manned presence in space becomes a thriving profitable commercial industry rather than a meager governmental one.

  • pzatchok

    Now the ISS can be used as a starting point to a private space station.

    It already has all the environmental needs. Just dock a new huge Bigalow to it to start, after that add modules to the new one until they to have independent environmental systems. Then disconnect and move away. The whole time seats can be rented out to offset the costs.

  • wodun

    I have mixed feelings about this. Edward does a good job pointing out the potential problems.

    I think the same situation applies when people talk about commercializing the Moon except that it is even harder for companies to break away from NASA controlled infrastructure.

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