WASHINGTON – NASA has issued a call for proposals for commercial modules that could be added to the International Space Station, although an industry representative warns that such facilities may not be as lucrative as NASA believes.
NASA has issued a Call for Proposals June 21 for "Developing Commercial Near-Earth Lanes with the International Space Station". The call is an appendix to NextSTEP (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships), a program that uses public-private partnerships to develop key exploration-related projects technologies.
As part of the request, NASA will eventually provide a docking port on the Node 2 or Harmony module on the ISS for use by a commercial module. The language in the call leaves open the possibility to establish a "commercial segment" of the station, which consists of several commercially developed elements.
NASA will initially award one or more conceptual and business development studies and may also prematurely finance design work on these commercial modules. These awards will "lead to subsequent task orders and a later decision point for prioritizing the use of the ISS port," NASA said in its request.
The agency said in its call that it will reach this "decision point" in terms of access the Harmony docking port 1
The call is part of a broader low-earth commercialization commercialization strategy announced by NASA on June 7, including prizes for commercial use of the station and allowing private astronaut visits. NASA will also issue an invitation this summer to support the development of commercial free flight destinations in LEO, independent of the ISS, as a follow-up to NextSTEP.
NASA has not announced the number of planned awards or their size. The agency said it would spend $ 561 million on NextSTEP attachments to support the development of commercial ISS modules and free-flyers.
This overall strategy aims to gradually change human activities in LEO from ISS to commercial entities. "NASA seeks to enable several privately owned and operated LEO objectives that are economically viable in the long run and that provide services to the government as one of many clients," the statement said in a podium discussion by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies June 21 here. "All of these activities are focused on helping the industry build a business case," said Doug Comstock, the commercial LEO contact at NASA's Exploration and Operations Mission. "We expect that the industry will be able to provide the agency's R & D and technology demonstration services needed in LEO at a much more efficient cost than ISS currently does."
The long-awaited tender for the ISS port was welcomed by companies that had been waiting for such a move by NASA in recent years. However, they warned that NASA should not expect such facilities to be immediately lucrative.
"I'm worried that NASA now believes in advertising so much that it will generate billions in LEO revenue," said Jeffrey Manber, general manager of NanoRacks, at the panel. "Short News: That's not the case."
Manber said that the ISS's international alignment with institutions from different countries will make it difficult for a single business entity to generate large revenues. "It will be difficult to get optimal revenue, so we have to be realistic," he warned.
Some NASA officials suggested that commercial users of the ISS could pay for the station's operating costs, which would free up funds for the station. Use it elsewhere, eg. For example, in the Artemis program, to bring people back to the moon. "We expect the revenue from these activities to lower our operating costs for the International Space Station," said Jeff DeWit, NASA's Chief Financial Officer, at NASA's June 7 event, NASA's LEO marketing strategy imagine. "These revenues can shift and help us in our mission to get to the moon."
However, NASA has acknowledged that, despite its price list for freight transport and other services, it continues to subsidize commercial activity at the station. These prices "do not reflect the full coverage of NASA costs" and could be adjusted, NASA said.
Manber noted, however, that the agency's support for commercial activities at the station is far from being in its infancy. "When we started using NanoRacks 10 years ago, we were the first company to own and market their own products on the space station," he recalls. "In 2009, there was fierce fighting over how a private company can operate on a taxpayer-funded platform, raise our own prices, and keep revenue."
NASA has since become much more open to commercial activity, he said. "We have matured and NASA has matured."