Building a Robust Commercial Market in Low Earth Orbit En Route to Mars

Press Release From: NASA HQ
Posted: Thursday, January 14, 2016

NASA is on a Journey to Mars and a new consensus is emerging around our plan, vision and timetable for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. Our strategy calls for working with commercial partners to get our astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station while NASA also focuses – simultaneously -- on getting our astronauts to deep space.

Few would have imagined back in 2010 when President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work “with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,” that less than six years later we’d be able to say commercial carriers have transported 35,000 of pounds of space cargo (and counting!) to the International Space Station (ISS) – or that we’d be so firmly on track to return launches of American astronauts to the ISS from American soil on American commercial carriers.

But that is exactly what is happening.

Since the first SpaceX Dragon commercial resupply mission to deliver cargo to the ISS in October 2012 and Orbital ATK’s first Cygnus mission in January 2014, American companies have delivered cargo to the Space Station that enables our astronauts to work off Earth for Earth on extensive and ongoing scientific research and technology demonstrations aboard the Space Station. This has included investigations that directly benefit life on Earth and expand commercial access to microgravity research through the U.S. National Laboratory (which is operated by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space or CASIS).

All this matters because NASA research helps us understand our home planet as well as the solar system and beyond, while technology demonstrations and human health research like astronaut Scott Kelly’s one-year mission and the Twins Study aboard the Space Station prepare us for long-duration missions into deep space.

As a result, we are closer than ever before to sending American astronauts to Mars and at the very same time, we’re “insourcing” American jobs and empowering American entrepreneurs and innovators to expand the nascent commercial market in low-Earth orbit.

Today, thanks to the bold plan laid out by the President, Americans are working at more than 1,000 companies in nearly every state in the Union on NASA commercial space initiatives.

Across the board, about 80% of NASA’s activities are carried out by our partners in industry and at America’s academic institutions. We develop more than 1,600 new technologies a year and work with business partners to transfer thousands of products, services and processes into the market for job creation and economic growth. More venture capital was invested in America’s space industry in 2015 than in all the previous 15 years combined.

In other words, at NASA we’re exploring deep space, but we're anchored right here on Earth, where we’re creating jobs and fueling innovation, technology development and growth, recognizing that it all depends on American ingenuity and innovation.

With the recent passage of the FY2016 federal budget and our selection of Robert Behnken, Sunita Williams, Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley to be the first NASA astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, we are close to returning human launches to American soil and ending our sole reliance on the Russians to get into space.

In addition, the commercial crew spacecraft will enable us to add a seventh crew member to the normal Space Station crew complement, effectively doubling the amount of crew time available to conduct research off Earth for Earth. The additional research (and crew supplies) will be delivered during cargo resupply missions.

A New Milestone

Despite critics who may have said this was a pipe dream just five short years ago, we continue to transform the way NASA does business and as a result, today we’re able to mark another significant milestone that will carry President Obama’s vision further into the future.

This afternoon, our ISS team in Houston will announce that NASA is making its new award for commercial space cargo delivery to the ISS.

This is a big deal, because our commercial resupply missions enable NASA and our private industry and other government agency partners to continue the extensive, ongoing scientific research aboard the Space Station.

President Obama extended the life of the International Space Station through at least 2024 (with the support of Congress), and our commercial cargo providers ensure cargo resupply missions continue, enabling us to keep using the station as our springboard to the rest of the solar system and a test bed for human health in space. Today’s selection builds on our initial resupply partnerships. It will ensure that NASA maintains the capability and flexibility to operate the ISS and conduct the vital research of a unique National Lab through resupply services launching from the United States.

As President Obama said, “in fulfilling this task, we will not only extend humanity’s reach in space -- we will strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.” Our investment in commercial space is creating jobs, and it’s bringing us closer to sending American astronauts to Mars. Competition, innovation and technology – it’s the American way. It’s helping us to Launch America.

Charlie B.

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