Today, NASA executives announced that the space agency will open up parts of the International Space Station to more commercial opportunities, allowing companies unprecedented use of the space station’s facilities, including filming commercials or movies against the backdrop of space. NASA is also calling on the private space industry to send in ideas for habitats and modules that can be attached to the space station semi-permanently.
A new interim directive from NASA allows private companies to buy time and space on the ISS for producing, marketing, or testing their products. It also allows those companies to use resources on the ISS for commercial purposes, even making use of NASA astronauts’ time and expertise (but not their likeness). If companies want, they can even send their own astronauts to the ISS, starting as early as 2020, but all of these activities come with a hefty price tag.
It’s a significant turn for NASA, which has long been antagonistic toward commercializing the ISS. Russia is more open to ads and branding on the ISS (as it was with the Mir space station) and has sent tourists to the ISS before. But NASA has strictly prohibited the use of its side of the International Space Station for commercial purposes. Up until now, any company wishing to send products to the ISS had to show that there was some educational component to the undertaking or that it revolved around some kind of technology demonstration. No purely commercial projects are allowed to be sent to the ISS, and NASA astronauts are even prohibited from working on experiments if there’s a possibility that the research will be used to make a profit.
In August, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine formed a committee to look into ways of opening up the space agency to commercialization, arguing that doing so could provide new sources of revenue and name recognition for NASA. “Is it possible for NASA to offset some of its costs by selling the naming rights to a spacecraft or the naming rights to its rockets?” Bridenstine said to a group of advisers for NASA in August. “I’m telling you there is interest in that right now. The question is: is it possible? And the answer is I don’t know, but we need somebody to give us advice on whether or not it is.” Source