Jul 24, 2020

A Growing Market at Gravity's Edge

Those striving to develop their products and conduct research beyond Earth’s atmosphere are seeing their visions come to life through the International Space Station National Lab and partnerships with NASA. NASA, in turn, is gaining new resources to aid in its mission of exploration and discovery. Thanks to these partnerships, the world is benefiting from the ingenuity of those who are taking their ideas to gravity’s edge.

From transportation, to satellite deployment, to in-space research, a vibrant commercial space economy has been developing, and its value now exceeds $345 billion!

Mike Read is the Manager of the ISS Business and Economic Development Office at Johnson Space Center. He explains some of the benefits of NASA investing in the commercial economy in space.

“Commercialization of low-Earth orbit frees up resources NASA needs to continue its exploration of space. Even as NASA prepares to return to the Moon, go to Mars and continues engaging with other space missions, we’ll always need a platform in low-Earth orbit. That platform enables crew training, advanced systems development, and fundamental and applied research. But, expanding use of the space station to commercial companies enables a new market. By having the commercial sector join us, we can continue our space exploration, while providing access to a platform that helps create jobs, build revenues, and ultimately create many new products that are beneficial to people on Earth.”

In terms of research, many companies are making use of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, to run their research and technology development investigations in microgravity. They include well-known corporations like Procter & Gamble, who have used the station to study colloids with a goal of improving the quality and lifespan of their products, such as shampoo and laundry fabric softener. Merck, the multinational pharmaceutical company, uses the National Lab to study the growth properties of 3-dimensional protein crystals. Their work could lead to more effective delivery systems for cancer treatments.

Even companies not as well known right now are seeing big dividends coming from their research. LambdaVision, for example, is using the microgravity conditions on the station to advance the development for treating the effects of retinal degeneration, with the goal of restoring the vision of those people affected by it.

In addition to research opportunities, the space station contributes to expanding the space economy in other ways. Read explains:

“The capabilities of launch providers such as SpaceX and Northrup Gruman have grown dramatically over the last decade. The cost of placing cargo into orbit has dropped dramatically, which opens up the space marketplace to many more non-governmental entities who simply could not afford the costs of reaching space before. Now, SpaceX has brought astronauts to the station from American soil for the first time since 2011, and the first time ever on a privately-owned launch system. The Commercial Crew Program provides a huge long-term benefit for both private companies and NASA.

Today, thanks in part to the space station, commercial and other non-governmental entities are entering the space economy in significant numbers. What these new partnerships can accomplish together will drive the in-space marketplace, and NASA’s grandest missions, to new heights, as well as improving quality of life for people on Earth.

For more science and research from the International Space Station, go to

To discover more about the space on, around, and beyond our planet visit