Status Report

NASA Report to Congress Regarding a Plan for the International Space Station National Laboratory

By SpaceRef Editor
June 1, 2007
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NASA Report to Congress Regarding a Plan for the International Space Station National Laboratory

Full Document

May 2007


NASA prepared this report outlining a plan for the International Space Station National Laboratory in response to direction in Section 507 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-155). The specific requirements of this plan are outlined below.


(a) DESIGNATION.–To further the policy described in section 501(a), the United States segment of the ISS is hereby designated a national laboratory.


(1) PARTNERSHIPS.–The Administrator shall seek to increase the utilization of the ISS by other Federal entities and the private sector through partnerships, cost-sharing agreements, and other arrangements that would supplement NASA funding of the ISS.

(2) CONTRACTING.–The Administrator may enter into a contract with a nongovernmental entity to operate the ISS national laboratory, subject to all applicable Federal laws and regulations.

(c) PLAN.–Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall transmit to the Committee on Science of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate a plan describing how the national laboratory will be operated. At a minimum, the plan shall describe–

(1) any changes in the research plan transmitted under section 506(3) and any other changes in the operation of the ISS resulting from the designation;

(2) any ground-based NASA operations or buildings that will be considered part of the national laboratory;

(3) the management structure for the laboratory, including the rationale for contracting or not contracting with a nongovernmental entity to operate the ISS national laboratory;

(4) the workforce that will be considered employees of the national laboratory;

(5) how NASA will seek the participation of other parties described in subsection (b)(1); and

(6) a schedule for implementing any changes in ISS operations, utilization, or management described in the plan.

(d) UNITED STATES SEGMENT DEFINED.–In this section the term ”United States segment of the ISS” means those elements of the ISS manufactured–

(1) by the United States; or

(2) for the United States by other nations in exchange for funds or launch services.


The International Space Station (ISS) constitutes a partnership among the nations of Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States (US) to cooperate on the design, development, operation and utilization of a permanently occupied civil space station. Assembly began with the first element launched in November 1998, and the ISS has been permanently crewed since November 2000. The on-orbit assembly, as of the STS-116 mission concluded December 22, 2006, is approximately 60% complete. All of the principal remaining US elements of the ISS, as well as the European and Japanese laboratories, have completed development, test and evaluation, and are awaiting launch at the Space Station Processing Facility, Kennedy Space Center.

In a major space policy address on January 14, 2004, President Bush directed NASA to focus its future human space exploration activities on a return to the Moon as prelude to future human missions to Mars and beyond. The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 (hereafter called the Act) also called for this renewed emphasis on space exploration. Included in this new national “Vision for Space Exploration” are plans to complete assembly of the ISS and retire the Space Shuttle fleet by the end of fiscal year (FY) 2010. In the second half of calendar year (CY) 2006, NASA demonstrated its commitment to achieve the FY 2010 objectives by successfully completing three Space Shuttle missions to the ISS. A $500 million NASA commitment also was made to partially finance demonstrations by 2010 of new US commercial orbital transportation services (COTS). These commercial services are planned to help support US maintenance and utilization of the ISS in the post-assembly era after the Space Shuttle is retired from service. Although the US commercial transportation services are targeted emerging space transportation assets of Russia, Europe and Japan, a cost-effective COTS capability is the preferred NASA option.

Along with concentrating NASA space systems development and operation efforts on space exploration, the US research mission for the ISS also was re-evaluated and subsequently refocused primarily on requirements-driven, exploration-oriented research. This research includes use of the ISS to develop, demonstrate, and deliver technologies, biomedical countermeasures, and technical and operational knowledge that will enable humans to withstand the rigors of space and permit more ambitious long-duration exploration missions. In addition, the Act mandated that 15 percent of the NASA funds budgeted for ISS research be dedicated to non-exploration oriented ISS research. While this combination of research committed NASA as the “anchor tenant”, it also freed up ISS resources (e.g., power, cooling, communications…) and accommodations (e.g., laboratory space and external attachment sites) over and above NASA mission needs.

The Act also designates the US segment of the ISS as a “national laboratory” to be made available for use by US public and private entities.1 [Reference Tab 1] Through this approach, basic and applied research and applications that are not applicable to the NASA mission can be pursued by those organizations whose own activities will directly benefit. NASA has embraced this legislative directive and launched a broad ISS applications development initiative as a result. This report summarizes NASA progress in this regard during CY 2006 and discusses the prospects for productive utilization of the ISS in the post-assembly timeframe.

Initial encounters with US government agencies have been positive relative to their potential use of the ISS. To date, a firm interest in the use of ISS has been demonstrated in the areas of education, human health related research and defense sciences research. In Section 2: Progress in CY 2006, the specific actions taken by NASA and the responses from these communities are discussed in detail. In brief, an inter-agency task force has provided a full report on the potential for using ISS to advance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educational objectives; a Memorandum of Understanding between NASA and the National Institutes of Health on use of the ISS is now under discussion; and, NASA is continuing to reach out to the private sector by an announcement of Sources Sought for commercial provision of water generation services on the ISS. As these activities progress, NASA remains confident that further applications of ISS capabilities will emerge in parallel with the potential reduction in perceived risks resulting from: (1) completion of ISS assembly and (2) availability of next generation commercial space transportation services. This reduction in perceived risk will be key to the identification of sources of funding for non- NASA use of the ISS.

NASA is carefully considering the operations plan during the ISS post-assembly period. Before determining final details of management struc- tures and processes, it will be important to reasonably define the scope of future ISS applications. The nature of research and exploration, through scientific and engineering applications, is such that discovery can influence outcomes at any point in an endeavor. The low- Earth orbit environment in which the ISS resides is a unique and relatively new human domain of activity; hence the opportunity for discovery remains rich and the effect on evolution of the national laboratory must be compatible in terms of management structures and processes.

The ultimate form of the ISS National Laboratory management structure, to some degree, will depend on the functional breadth of the organization. Several models of successful national and international management systems, as well as more tailored approaches, are under consideration by NASA and the NASA Advisory Council. Flexibility remains important at this early stage. In Section 3: Preliminary Operations Plan, several strategic considerations are discussed, such as the need for NASA to continue as the executive agent for integrating interests of other US government agencies that might not be inclined to work with a third party entity when seeking access to a US government asset. NASA also will continue to explore the benefits of an associated non-profit, or for-profit, management entity for non-government access to the ISS, in the event it becomes a valuable feature in the evolving private sector space economy.

SpaceRef staff editor.