Space Commerce

NASA Releases Study On Commercial Space Economy

By Keith Cowing
May 29, 2019
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NASA Releases Study On Commercial Space Economy
Dragon Docked To The ISS

New insights from companies in the growing space economy are helping NASA chart a course for the future of commercial human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit.
Input the companies provided to NASA as part of the studies will inform NASA’s future policies to support commercial activities that enable a robust low-Earth orbit economy.

NASA selected the following companies to complete studies about the commercialization of low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station, assessing the potential growth of a low-Earth orbit economy and how to best stimulate private demand for commercial human spaceflight:

Axiom Space, LLC, of Houston
Blue Origin, LLC, of Kent, Washington
The Boeing Company of Houston
Deloitte Consulting of Manhattan Beach, California
KBRWyle of Houston
Lockheed Martin Corporation of Littleton, Colorado
McKinsey & Company, Inc. of Washington, D.C.
NanoRacks, LLC, of Webster, Texas
Northrop Grumman of Dulles, Virginia
Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado
Space Adventures, Inc., of Vienna, Virginia
Maxar Technologies, formerly SSL, Inc., of Palo Alto, California

Low Earth Orbit Commercialization Study Results

These companies investigated what a commercially viable industry in low-Earth orbit could look like, including: commercialization concepts and technical configurations for habitable platforms in low-Earth orbit, either through the International Space Station or a free-flying platform; business plans that explore the viability of commercial destinations; and the role of government and evolution of the space station in the roadmap to commercialization of low-Earth orbit. Observations from these studies revealed many potential markets that could be part of the future ecosystem in low-Earth orbit.

The studies identified that commercial “destinations” could turn a profit from many areas: research and development similar to that seen today on the station as part of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory; in-space manufacturing of unique materials or products; video products for entertainment use including films, documentaries and sporting events; sponsorship and marketing; accommodations for space tourism; in-space assembly and servicing of large structures and satellites; and transportation of people and cargo to and from low-Earth orbit.

High costs for crew and cargo transportation continue to present a barrier to market entry for both company and consumer. One way to reduce transportation costs could be with economies of scale that could be achieved through a larger market. NASA could play a key role in helping stimulate and facilitate market growth by providing access to the space station to catalyze new markets, aid in technology development, and strengthen the burgeoning industry. Eventually NASA is expected to be a key customer to future commercially operated destinations in low-Earth orbit.

NASA will continue to need low-Earth orbit for microgravity research and testing that will enable the success of the agency’s plans to go forward to the Moon and Mars, including landing the first woman and next man on the Moon. Providing expanded opportunities for commercial activities at the space station could help catalyze and expand markets, enabling a robust economy in space for many businesses. The agency’s ultimate goal in low-Earth orbit is to partner with industry to achieve a robust ecosystem in which NASA is one of many customers purchasing services and capabilities, at a much lower cost than today.

The International Space Station is a one-of-a-kind orbiting laboratory. For more than 18 years, humans have lived and worked aboard the complex conducting thousands of experiments in areas such as human research, biology, and physical science, as well as advanced technology development. Many of these experiments, conducted via the ISS National Laboratory, have been research and development with commercial objectives. New opportunities are needed to move beyond research and development, and the station will play an essential role in enabling those opportunities for new commercial markets needed to build a sustainable ecosystem in low-Earth orbit.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.