NASA has announced that it is opening the International Space Station (ISS) to commercial businesses. To qualify for a spot on the ISS, the agency says commercial activities must show that they require the station’s unique microgravity environment, have a connection to NASA’s mission or support the development of a “sustainable low-Earth orbit economy.” The agency will also be allowing private astronauts to stay on the station for up to 30 days to perform duties associated with approved commercial and marketing missions. Private astronauts will still be required to complete the training and certification procedures for ISS crew members and meet NASA’s medical standards.
“NASA will continue research and testing in low-Earth orbit to inform its lunar exploration plans, while also working with the private sector to test technologies, train astronauts and strengthen the burgeoning space economy,” the agency said in a press release. “Providing expanded opportunities at the International Space Station to manufacture, market and promote commercial products and services will help catalyze and expand space exploration markets for many businesses.”
NASA says it is initially making 5% of its annual crew resource and cargo capability allocations—about 90 hours of crew time and 175 kg of cargo launch capability—available for commercial use but will be limiting how much any one company will receive. According to the agency, more than 50 companies have already conducted “commercial research and development on the space station via the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory.” The new initiative is designed to expand commercial use of the ISS beyond research and development.