Status Report

Commercial Market Outreach Plan for the ISS – February 2002

By SpaceRef Editor
March 23, 2002
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  • Full Report (1.7 mb pdf file)
  • Executive Summary (275 kb pdf file)
  • Main Report (1.2 mb pdf file)
  • Appendices (375 kb pdf file)

    Executive Summary


    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.
      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.

    Communication Strategy

    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
    this research.

    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.

    Target Industries

    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
    agricultural problems.

    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
    • Environment
    • Optical and electrical materials
    • Aerospace

    Target Audiences

    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
    scientific breakthroughs.

    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
      commercialization venture.
    • 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
      their sector.

    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.

    Industry-level Outreach

    This audience refers to a broad pool within the Biomedical, Agritech, and Materials and
    Processes industries.

    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

    Corporate Scientists

    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.

    Preparatory Steps

    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.

  • Improve flight manifest procedures so that they are simplified and
    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.
  • Implement fast-track flight procedures. When an industry partner seeks to replicate its prior study it should be fast-tracked to facilitate replication and
    validation of studies, thereby contributing to the credibility of microgravity research
    as a scientific discipline.
  • Clarify and communicate procedures for ensuring confidentiality of
    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.
  • Establish a single point of contact. Businesses interested in pursuing
    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
    toll-free number.
  • Strengthen the CSC network. The CSCs all too often work in isolation and
    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.
  • Strengthen links between NASA and the CSCs. NASA should be more
    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.

  • SpaceRef staff editor.