NASA is continuing to look for ways to further its exploration goals by expanding commercial opportunities and improving access to the International Space Station.
The agency issued Monday a Request for Information to gather ideas from companies interested in using the space station and developing commercial opportunities in the low-Earth orbit environment, according to a NASA release.
“After 10 years of continuous habitation in low-Earth orbit, we know microgravity provides data unattainable on Earth,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are already seeing benefits in pharmaceuticals, medical robotics and materials sciences.”
The RFI comes on the heels of a Jan 9. announcement by the agency that it is extending its commitment to the International Space Station until at least 2024. In the January announcement, the agency also reinforced the its commitment to encouraging new ISS partners and expanding the private market’s access to the unique opportunities offered by the space station.
“This RFI will help identify how to open this one-of-a-kind orbital laboratory to the private sector in better and more practical ways — ultimately, helping to pave the way for private microgravity research facilities of the future,” Gerstenmaier said.
According to NASA, responses to the RFI should include ideas that could build upon efforts to:
- Create a private system in low-Earth orbit;
- Develop crew transportation to enable commercial activities aboard the station beyond NASA requirements;
- Break down access-, programmatic- and business-related barriers to realizing these objectives;
- Address NASA capabilities or expertise that would help facilitate transitioning to a more commercially-driven presence; or
- Identify capabilities and resources NASA could purchase from the commercial sector to allow NASA research activities to continue beyond the life of the space station.
Responses to the RFI can also include suggestions on how private research and other activities conducted on the space station could foster commercial value or demand for access to low-Earth orbit. The complete RFI is available here.