20 November 1998
(Washington, DC) -- November 20 -- NASA's eagerly anticipated Commercial Development Plan for the International Space Station is an encouraging step in the right direction. The space agency recognizes the complexities of transitioning a government program to commercial operation and has developed a cautious and measured strategy to seek out and nurture commercial sector involvement in International Space Station (ISS) operation and utilization.
The most significant step proposed by the NASA plan is the proposal to move from a cost-based to a value-based pricing system. The space agency will request independent market strategists to take a new look at defining the pricing structure for space-based research and manufacturing. If pricing schedules are realigned so that the combination of the advantages of microgravity experiment and production facilities and the price of conducting the work in space results in innovative, marketable products, a new space industry sector will result.
The report also recognizes that lack of flight opportunities and lengthy delays in obtaining a flight slot have been a deterrent for potential academic and industrial space "customers" in the past. NASA pledges to seek out and secure a variety of flight opportunities for experimenters. This would include Commerce Lab, a dedicated shuttle flight each year until ISS completion. This strategy could jump-start promising ISS research projects and result in the early sign-up of commercial users.
In proposing the establishment of a Non-Government Organization to manage commercial use of the International Space Station the report acknowledges the past failure of NASA to effectively engage the commercial sector. A body outside government bureaucracy will be better positioned to respond the needs of industrial users, which should accelerate the rate of commercial customer sign-up for use of the station.
The report suggests selection of a NGO in parallel with deployment of the U.S. Laboratory in the year 2000. It also discusses development of organizational and telecommunications architecture to support the international scope of operations and the national objectives of all partners in the space station program. The report does not address the method for accommodating commercial use of the ISS by multinational corporations, the global marketplace for space products, or the increasingly global politics of space business; tricky topics for a federal agency but central issues in the developing space business marketplace.
The National Space Society, founded in 1974, is an independent, nonprofit space advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. Its 23,000 members and 75 chapters around the world actively promote a spacefaring civilization. Information on NSS and space exploration is available at <http://www.nss.org>.