NASA makes International Space Station available to commercial companies

NASA will open the International Space Station to commercial companies and astronauts. Companies can thus carry out all kinds of activities on the ISS, such as filming advertising videos or connecting new modules to the space station.

The US space agency announced the plan Friday afternoon. Under the new plans, companies can rent parts of the ISS to make or test their products, as well as use it ‘for marketing’. In addition, they are also allowed to film and ask the help of NASA astronauts.

It will also be possible to bring astronauts to the space station. They will have to make their own way to the station; they can turn to Russia for this, or to companies such as SpaceX, Boeing or Sierra Nevada Corp. Manned missions may start in 2020. Companies are also given the option of linking their own module to the American Harmony module. It must then be provided with a docking port for cargo ships. NASA has had twelve companies carry out a feasibility study into the design of such modules.

Access to the ISS is not unlimited. Only 175 kilograms of commercial cargo is allowed to the station per year, and NASA astronauts are allowed up to 90 hours per year to participate in experiments. Space tourists are also not allowed to stay in the station for more than thirty days. The tourists also have to pay for the stay on board. That costs $11,250 per day for the life support systems and use of the toilet, and $22,500 per day for food, oxygen, and use of sports equipment. In addition, companies must pay $50 per gigabyte if they send data to Earth, and electricity costs $42 per kilowatt hour.

The countries of the ISS have always worked closely with private industry, but this has always been subject to strict rules. Companies that wanted to test their products in microgravity were only allowed to do so if there was an educational or scientific component to it. For a few years now, NASA in particular has been working more and more with commercial companies to supply the space station, but that too is all done on behalf of the space agency itself. The new rules would also allow companies such as Boeing and SpaceX to bring tourists to the ISS themselves.

Space tourism has also been part of the ISS for years, but that never went well either. There have been some “tourists” on the space station, such as billionaire Dennis Tito who stayed there for eight days in 2001. Since then, there have been some other tourists at the station who paid Russia several million for a Soyuz rocket ride. That was tolerated by the other countries because since 2011 Russia is the only country that can still bring astronauts to the station. It is not yet clear what the relationship with the other countries in this plan is.