Jun 21, 2021

Doing Business in Space

The International Space Station has proven to be a one-of-a-kind laboratory. Microgravity conditions allow for experiments impossible to duplicate on Earth. New science, new knowledge. The station has also proven to have the capacity to serve as an incubator for new business, accelerating the development of a new space economy in low-Earth orbit.


The business of doing business on the International Space Station has become a primary focus of NASA in the last 10 years. Mike Read is the Manager of space station Business and Economic Development for NASA at Johnson Space Center. He explains how businesses are enabling research.

“Supporting all of the research activities on station is becoming a significant activity in and of itself. Companies like BioServe, TechShot, Space Tango, and others operate over 20 commercial research facilities housed on the station. Scores of companies provide services as payload developers, helping researchers translate their experiments into hardware small and light enough to be transported to and housed on the station. All of these commercial activities support business models and expand the numbers of entities with experience in conducting business in space.

As NASA increases the opportunities for companies to perform research on the space station, it’s likely that the number and types of companies taking advantage of those opportunities will also increase. That, in turn, will help keep the partnership between NASA and business thriving.

Read notes: “Soon we hope to see private astronauts as part of NASA’s LEO Commercial Development program. Some of those may be researcher astronauts, that is researchers who work directly for a company and are trained to come work in the station during private astronaut missions.” To enable the beginning of development for a next generation, commercially-built-and-operated low-Earth orbit research platform, the space station is hosting new commercial modules: the Nanoracks Bishop Airlock became operational in February 2021, and Axiom Space plans to launch a module to expand the habitable volume for research and other activities on the station.

NASA’s Commercial Resupply and Commercial Crew Programs are also enabling multiple companies to develop and operate the next generation of spacecraft and launch systems. This commercial transportation to and from the station has fueled the growing market-share of U.S. launch providers in the world marketplace, and is providing expanded utility, additional research time, and broader opportunities for discovery for NASA’s mission of space exploration.

The innovative use of public-private partnerships employed to support station research is becoming the template for NASA’s new exploration initiatives. The Artemis program has the goal of landing the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon. In addition, Artemis plans include establishing a lunar outpost built by private companies, and eventually harvesting resources from the Moon.

Doing business in space has become one of the fastest growing businesses on Earth. The space economy has expanded by over 60% in the last decade, and is now valued at roughly 400 Billion dollars. That commercial success is matched in importance by the knowledge gained from private research conducted on the space station. It’s knowledge that spans hundreds of disciplines, and will help millions here on Earth, as well as those traveling beyond the reaches of our planet for years to come.

For more information about how private companies can conduct their research on the Space Station, go to

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