- Status Report
- Nov 20, 2023
Commercial Market Outreach Plan for the ISS – February 2002
Several past reports commissioned or prepared by NASA have discussed what types of
microgravity research could be conducted in space and which industries present the largest
markets for commercial space enterprises. The aim of this effort is considerably different: It
presents a communication strategy that describes how to communicate the benefits of space-based
research to potential private-sector partners.
The communication strategy described in this report is based on a number of key findings that
resulted from an analysis of NASA and industry reports, interviews with NASA and CSC
staff, and interviews with members of the target industries. These include:
- Over the past 40 years, space commercialization has evolved to a
point where industry can participate as users and developers of space
facilities and not simply as contractors to the government or
beneficiaries of technology transfer. Moreover, commercial utilization of
space is no longer limited to the aerospace sector; it includes a wide spectrum of
industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to heavy machinery.
- Microgravity research is the key component for ISS-based research.
Research conducted on the ISS can potentially leverage three unique features of
space: a microgravity environment, vacuum, and a unique vantage point. Industry
can access all of these features via other space vehicles (e.g., shuttles, satellites,
sounding rockets, etc); however, the Space Station offers a vast improvement over
the current means of generating a microgravity environment. Long-duration, human-tended
microgravity environment is the most unique, valuable and attractive feature
of the ISS as a research laboratory, and it is the focus of this marketing and outreach
- Microgravity provides few obvious and immediate solutions to earth-based
problems although it has very great potential to do so. Humans
have always lived in an environment supported and constrained by gravity. As a
result, all human-developed processes are fundamentally adapted to this
environment. Microgravity research is a relatively recent development and its vast
potential is, so far, largely unexplored and untapped. Due to the nascence of the
discipline, it is still premature to pinpoint the extent to which microgravity will
revolutionize current industrial practices or products, and which practices and
products these will be. The largest benefits of the opportunity NASA is offering
industry lie well in the future, and few people truly understand its implications or
potential. While the ultimate pay-off for society as a whole is likely to be large, few
(if any) companies will be able to reap immediate profits from microgravity research,
and some may see no financial return at all.
Other breakthrough inventions that are now regarded as indispensable to industry
(e.g., vacuums, microscopes) or to people’s daily lives (e.g., Post-It¨ notes,
microwave ovens) have experienced similar incubation stages. In some cases (such
as the vacuum tube) it took up to a century to realize the full benefits of a new
scientific technique or discovery. Similar to these past discoveries, microgravity
research will ultimately provide similar great advances, but it is difficult to say how
far into the future these may be and which specific applications or processes will be
- Collaborative research with CSCs continues to be the cornerstone of
ISS commercialization. Commercial research on the ISS can occur via an
Entrepreneurial Offer (EO) or in partnership with a CSC. Research conducted via an
EO is meant to lead directly to a profitable product. At present, few lines of research
are mature enough to lead directly to profitable products, and few companies could
bear the expense of an EO at the current level of uncertainty associated with the
research. The one possible exception to this seems to be the aerospace sector, which
can use the ISS as a test-bed for products, materials and technologies, and has the
technical know-how to send experiments into space and comply with NASA’s
procedures. For most other industry sectors, EOs do not appear to be a viable
proposition and cooperative research with the CSCs is likely to be the primary entrŽe
into the world of space-based research.
Long-term access to a human-tended microgravity environment is the main benefit of doing
research aboard the space station. However, few people appreciate the importance of
microgravity research, let alone the benefits of conducting this research aboard the space
station. Our task, then, is not simply to promote the benefits of the space station as a unique
research environment, but to increase awareness of the benefits of microgravity research as a
discipline. In marketing terms, our task is to create and define a new market category and to
create a market demand for this category.
Key Shaping Factors for the Program
The most important factor in shaping our communication strategy is the current state of
microgravity research. The field of microgravity research is still in the early phases of
identifying, replicating, describing and categorizing phenomena, and little progress has been
made towards developing explanatory models or hypotheses. This lack of data makes it
difficult for companies to foresee a clear pathway or program of study that can lead to specific
discoveries. The complexity and expense of microgravity research also makes it difficult for
this discipline to compete with earth-based technologies and programs of study. Microgravity
research holds great potential to generate profits for industry through development of new
products and improvement in current R&D or manufacturing processes. However, much basic
research needs to be done before these benefits can be realized and it is difficult to predict
which lines of research will yield these results and which will prove unfruitful.
To engage industry in microgravity research in this early phase, NASA needs to highlight the
immediate and short-term benefits of commercial participation in this research. In the short
term, this program offers:
- A fresh look at the problems that industries have been grappling with.
- Participation in forging a new discipline of study that is likely to yield significant
- benefits in the future.
- Cost-leveraging with NASA.
- Access to expertise of NASA scientists and academicians (through the CSCs).
— Access to CSC research resources through partnerships.
- A long-term collaborative program of study that yields important discoveries and
- advances, some of which may have immediate application.
- Prestige and visibility through association with NASA and the ISS.
We have designed a strategy that emphasizes and builds upon these short-term benefits,
without losing sight of the potential for large financial returns in the longer term.
The second important factor in designing this plan is the current economic and media
environment. The current economic downturn is likely to strain available research resources.
Furthermore, following September 11, 2001 the national agenda and media and public
attention have been dominated by a new set of concerns, generally relegating many other
issues (including space exploration and technical breakthroughs) into the background. The
nation has come a long way from its buoyant mood and exuberant faith in the promise of
technology. Furthermore, NASA has received considerable negative publicity in recent
months due to budget overruns and mission setbacks, and is sometimes portrayed as an
inefficient, wasteful bureaucracy that is out-of-synch with the nation’s priorities.
In summary, this communication is being planned during an unfavorable media and economic
environment. This factor plays an important role in our recommendations for industry
audiences as well as the overall timing and implementation of this program. Specifically, we
recommend that NASA focus on building public enthusiasm and support for microgravity
research in the first phase of this program.cˆ«the media and economic environments improve
and appropriate policies and procedures to accommodate commercial research aboard the
space station are in place, a more focused appeal can be made to industry leaders to invest in
The Basic Strategy
The strategy shaping this communication program is driven by a need to highlight the short-term
benefits of participating in microgravity research: most notably, the strategic advantage
and cost leveraging gained by early participation in this field, and the opportunity to be
perceived as an innovative, progressive leader within an industry and among the public. Our
strategy is to:
- Widen awareness and perceived relevance of microgravity research
among public and industry audiences. This includes bringing NASA’s
research out of the “aerospace world” into more industry sectors and into the
mainstream media and public discussion forums.
- Create a public and media environment that values industry
participation in this venture. This is critical for validating the short-term public
relations and image-building benefits that we promise companies that choose to
participate in this venture.
- Associate industry participation with valued attributes such as
innovation and leadership. Microgravity research is truly a “new frontier” of
great potential and great uncertainty.
- Position NASA’s offer to highlight benefits while minimizing costs. One
of the greatest benefits to participating in microgravity research in this early stage is
that industry can leverage both costs and expertise through collaborative research
with the CSCs.
The statement of work identified three target industry sectors for this outreach plan:
Biotechnology, Agritech, and Materials and Processes. The term Biotechnology is used
loosely in the statement of work to include a host of medical applications, not just those that
rely on cellular or molecular processes for product development. Thus, this sector is titled the
“Biomedical” sector in this report, and covers both biotech and non-biotech medical
applications of microgravity research. The specific industries within the Biomedical field that
can benefit from microgravity research are Medical Biotechnology (e.g., cellular or molecular
processes used to solve medical problems), Pharmaceuticals (e.g., drugs manufactured to treat
illness and disease), and Medical Devices and Implants. Also, in this report, we consider
Agritech as a specialized application of biotechnology, which uses biotech to solve
Materials and Processes is a broadly defined sector that includes, among other things, the
production of a host of advanced materials with exceptional structural or conductive
properties. In many respects this is not so much an industry category as a broad set of
activities aimed at understanding, controlling and improving various physical phenomena.
Under this rubric, the key industries that can benefit from microgravity research are Metals
and Metal Products (e.g., metal fabrication and casting), Heavy Machinery and Automotives
(e.g., engines, turbines and other heavy machinery), Chemicals (e.g., organics, inorganics,
plastics, coatings, etc), Electronic and Optical Components (e.g., semiconductors, thin-films),
and Ceramics (e.g., abrasives and advanced ceramics).
Each of these industries was evaluated according to four criteria: 1) Relevance of existing
microgravity research findings; 2) Ability to use basic research findings; 3) Large R&D
budgets; and 4) Value of consumer support and publicity. Based on this analysis, we
recommend that early outreach efforts focus on the following industries:
- Medical biotech and pharmaceuticals
- Metals and metal products
- Heavy machinery and transportation
- Optical and electrical materials
The primary target audiences for this effort are members of these target industries – scientists
or executives – who can either decide to enter into a research partnership with NASA or can
initiate or advocate for this participation. Our research shows that such a decision may be
initiated either by scientists or by executives who are intrigued by the possibilities of this
research, but it usually has to be approved by a mid- to senior-level executive.
In addition, industry business and thought leaders often set the tone and agenda for their
industry sector and have an important impact on the R&D and other strategic decisions of
individual companies. Thus, we propose the following levels of outreach to industry
1. General industry level outreach to target industries.
2. Outreach to specific scientists or workgroups within target industries.
3. Outreach to industry business and thought leaders, including CEOs, influential
analysts, and heads of trade associations or think tanks.
Given that microgravity research is unlikely to yield immediate and certain financial returns
for participating corporations, enhancing the strategic and public relations appeal of
conducting this research with NASA is a critical component of our communication strategy.
This can be achieved by raising the visibility and status of this program among the general
public, and more specifically, among opinion leaders, so that a corporation can create
confidence and goodwill among its constituents through participating in this research. Thus,
we have identified a fourth audience for this campaign:
4. The Influential Public, consisting of educated and professional adults ages 30-65,
particularly people who are oriented towards technological advances and may be
considered opinion leaders in this area.
The Communication Program
An overview of the communication program is described briefly below for each target
audience. This program is organized into two phases. The first phase concentrates on
providing more general information and building broad-based support for microgravity
research. The second phase continues and expands many of the Phase 1 activities, but
undertakes some new activities and seeks to generate more specific interest in undertaking
this research. A complete synopsis of the communication program can be seen in Table 1 at
the end of this summary.
The Influential Public
In order for a business to undertake microgravity research it must first believe it is valuable
and valued. This sense of value comes largely from its main constituency – the general public.
Thus, fostering a positive view of microgravity research in the public’s mind is a critical first
step in our program.
We define this audience as the educated and professional lay public between the ages of 30
and 65, particularly those who are oriented towards technological advances and may be
considered opinion leaders in this area.
This audience currently has little or no awareness and knowledge of microgravity research, its
benefits, and its applications. It also lacks knowledge about why the ISS exists, what it can
do, and what is currently occurring on station. In addition, the current economic and social
environment may heighten the sense that this research is unnecessary. On the other hand,
most Americans have a sense of pride in the U.S. lead role in space exploration and want to
see the U.S. continue to be a leader in space exploration and technological advances.
The objectives of the communication directed at this audience are:
- To increase awareness and perceived relevance of space-based research, particularly
aboard the ISS.
- To increase awareness and perceived relevance of NASA’s technical and research
expertise, particularly outside of space exploration.
- To generate awareness of space commerce and NASA partnership opportunity –
discussion and engagement in the topic.
Communication with this audience should capitalize on this sense of pride and the “frontier”
spirit of exploration that values new ventures and adventures. It should also promote the
concept of government agencies, academia, and corporations working together to achieve
The preferred channel for this communication is earned media coverage, preferably feature
stories, in high-profile daily and weekly publications. News stories should be developed that
demonstrate how NASA has contributed to scientific advances that affect people’s lives on
Earth, and how space research holds the promise of discoveries that can contribute to people’s
health, safety, and quality of life. They should also position space-based research as a frontier
that scientists from different sectors (public and private) are now exploring.
Given the public’s limited understanding of microgravity research, these messages should be
simple and should use familiar language. For example, we suggest using the terms “space-based
research” or, more simply, “space research” to describe research opportunities on the
Space Station. The focus should be on getting the main story across without getting bogged
down in fine distinctions (such as the difference between technology transfer and cooperative
research with industry).
Industry Executives and Leaders
This category includes CEOs, high-level executives, analysts, association heads, and others
who are considered to be the thought leaders in their respective industry areas. Their support
is crucial to this program; not only can they commit funds that they control, but they also
yield tremendous influence within their industry sector and their support can raise the profile
and perceived legitimacy of commercial space research.
The communication objectives for this audience are:
- To engage senior executives and industry leaders to participate in and guide NASA’s
- To encourage senior executives and industry leaders to promote space commerce to
media and within their industry.
- To encourage senior executives to take the lead on commercial space research for
Industry executives want their companies, and themselves personally, to be perceived as
visionary leaders. Media and publicity opportunities are valued ways to communicate their
leadership to others, including the general public. Thus this audience will value association
with this enterprise provided it signifies a leadership position in their industry. Like the
general public, however, these executives lack understanding of the benefits of microgravity
research. Until they perceive sufficient “buzz” about this opportunity and/or are personally
enthused by its potential, they are unlikely to actively support it.
Most industry leaders are driven by short-term bottom-line concerns, but like to think of
themselves as visionaries who take a longer-term perspective. These industry leaders need to
understand both the long-term and short-term benefits of microgravity research. For this
reason it is important to communicate that although microgravity research is unlikely to
provide short-term return on investment, it does provide many intangibles such as prestige,
leadership, and publicity. The ability to leverage cost with the CSCs and with NASA should
also be emphasized to convey that by participating now, companies can position themselves at
the cutting edge of microgravity science and reap its benefits at minimal cost.
In the first phase of this communication program, NASA’s efforts should focus on generating
interest in microgravity research and building support in key industries with selected leaders.
In Phase 2, NASA can seek to translate this support into concrete action by convening an
“industry panel” composed of industry leaders who are committed to guiding and promoting
NASA’s commercial microgravity research effort.
This audience refers to a broad pool within the Biomedical, Agritech, and Materials and
The goals of this industry-level outreach are to:
- Increase awareness of microgravity research applications for each industry sector.
- Increase perceived value of research partnership with NASA.
- Identify appropriate contacts for follow-up.
These industries are generally interested in scientific discovery and recognize its value to their
business. They also appreciate the value of serendipity and recognize that all research
involves some uncertainty and risk. However, they are more likely to undertake programs of
study where the possible pathway from discovery to product or process innovation can be
charted. As microgravity research yields tangible and specific findings, industries will be
more likely to take on this research. However, the uncertainty and delays in NASA’s current
flight scheduling procedures are likely to be a big barrier for most industries. These delays
and uncertainties may be frustrating at best or completely unacceptable at worst.
In Phase 1, the focus of industry-level outreach is to build knowledge about microgravity
research and its benefits to specific industries. The recommended channels for this
communication are trade shows, conferences, and other industry forums that NASA already
reaches via the CSCs and the Office of Space Product Development. NASA’s impact at these
meetings can be consolidated and amplified through speaking opportunities (e.g.,
symposiums) and joint exhibits under the NASA banner. NASA’s communication efforts
should also be more focused towards the industries identified as primary targets. For these
target industries, communication can be improved by developing industry-specific materials,
forming partnerships with industry groups (like the current partnership with the Biotech
Industry Organization), and supplementing exhibits with speaking opportunities at industry
events such as conferences and trade shows. We also recommend the development of a more
efficient system for tracking industry contacts and following up on conversations with
interested parties that result from NASA’s marketing efforts.
To generate support for microgravity research in target industries, the long-term benefits of
engaging in microgravity research and the short-term value of scientific discovery and
innovation must be promoted. The focus should be on publicizing relevant findings and the
leads they offer for further research. Another important message is that industries can explore
the benefits of this research at little cost. Most important of all is the need to stress the
relevance of microgravity research for industry sectors. The communication should be about
how NASA can contribute to a specific industry and not about all that NASA’s microgravity
research program has accomplished.
In Phase 2, communication with these audiences can be more motivational (as opposed to
informational) and more focused on publicizing specific opportunities, for example via
advertisements in trade publications.
We also recommend that NASA and the CSCs give some consideration to improving
communications with existing industry partners to retain their support in this unfavorable
economic and media environment. Many of the delays and uncertainties of flights are beyond
NASA’s control, and there may be good reasons for many protocols and procedures that seem
unnecessary and cumbersome to the faster-paced private sector. Communicating with industry
partners about these concerns, explaining NASA’s constraints, and listening to the partners’
concerns are likely to help NASA retain partners and attract new ones through word-of-mouth
This category includes scientists engaged in research within the targeted industries. The goals
of the communication with this audience are:
- To introduce microgravity research to appropriate scientists, thereby generating
interest in this research.
- To increase credibility and perceived applicability of this research and engage
scientists in a discussion of the possibilities for this research.
- To persuade scientists to suggest this research for their company or support this
research in discussions with other scientists or managers.
Corporate scientists value exploration and discovery for their own sake. In this regard they are
no different than scientists in academia or government. However, the fact that they operate in
a corporate environment means that they have to justify their interest in a particular line of
research by demonstrating its value to the corporation. Corporate scientists are used to making
decisions based on data they’ve collected and will need good data and hard facts to be
convinced to undertake microgravity research. A key advantage with this audience is that
many of them harbor very positive feelings about NASA and space exploration, especially
since so many of them grew up during the Apollo years. For this reason, the idea of
conducting research in space and in collaboration with NASA is especially appealing to them.
Much of the outreach to this audience should be conducted scientist-to-scientist via the CSCs.
Materials must employ fact-based appeals that focus on actual results and their implications,
without exaggerating or over hyping the promise of microgravity. Messages to scientists need
to be largely informative rather than persuasive, and should be designed to build the stature
and credibility of the discipline of microgravity research.
As with the other audiences, Phase 1 activities focus on knowledge-building and establishing
microgravity science as an interesting new frontier in scientific research, but sharing
information on research projects and making presentations to interested scientists or research
groups (as the CSCs are currently doing). We also recommend developing a newsletter for
interested scientists and creating a clearinghouse of microgravity research findings and
publications. In this way, scientists have access to a single source with extensive information
about conducting microgravity research and its findings. In Phase 2, these activities are
extended and the focus shifts slightly to generate more speaking opportunities and
presentations of successful research projects via a variety of scientific forums.
The role of communication is to generate interest in the opportunity offered by NASA. In
order for NASA to convert this corporate interest into active participation, it must set in place
procedures to meet the needs of potential private sector partners. We recommend that NASA
take the following steps to support its commercial microgravity program and prepare for more
active industry interest.
streamlined. Most important of all, NASA must explain these procedures and
timelines clearly to industry partners and deliver on them as much as possible. If
unforeseen circumstances lead to changes in the schedule, these constraints should
be clearly explained to partners.
validation of studies, thereby contributing to the credibility of microgravity research
as a scientific discipline.
Intellectual Property. NASA must make sure that the confidentiality of all the
information presented is protected at all times and these procedures should be discussed with potential partners.
microgravity research should be able to contact a single person or office who will be
knowledgeable about all the microgravity research being conducted at the various
CSCs, and can guide the caller to the relevant CSC or scientific group. This contact
person should be able to determine which CSC might be the best partner for an
interested business and facilitate partnership development. The contact should also
follow up with the industry member to see how the partnership is progressing, and
should generally have a relationship management and customer satisfaction charge.
Ideally this contact person should be reachable via a front-door mechanism such as a
with very limited funds. Sharing knowledge about outreach efforts, research
projects, hardware development, and flight manifesting could be highly beneficial to
all CSCs. Moreover, the CSCs should be encouraged to collaborate on research and
share findings so that microgravity research can be effectively advanced. NASA can
provide the forums and the opportunities for such collaborations.
closely linked with the CSCs both in external and internal communications.
However, this should be done without squelching the diversity and entrepreneurial
spirit of the CSCs. These links should build the sense that the CSCs are part of a
larger endeavor and are supported in their work. For example, NASA’s annual
conference with CSC directors currently focuses largely on each CSC reporting on
work in progress or completed. This annual conference should instead be more of a
forum for two-way communication where, in addition to reporting on their work, the
CSC directors have the opportunity to learn more about NASA’s strategic vision,
processes, and constraints. They should also have the opportunity to raise and
discuss issues that concern them all. The annual conference should also be
supplemented by periodic updates and discussions among the CSCs and NASA,
either by conference call or email. The aim of these efforts should be to foster a spirit
of collaboration and involvement between NASA and the CSCs rather than merely
keeping the CSCs well-informed of NASA policies or activities.