NASA Finalizing Plan To Promote Commercial Human Spaceflight In Low Earth Orbit

NASA is putting the finishing touches on a congressionally mandated plan to increase commercial human activity on the International Space Station (ISS) and other potential low-Earth-orbit platforms, an agency official said Nov. 29.

The plan, which is due to Congress Dec. 1, is required by the NASA transition authorization act of 2017, which President Donald Trump signed into law in March. The act calls for shifting from the current LEO “regime,” which relies heavily on NASA sponsorship, to one in which NASA is one of many customers of commercial human spaceflight.

The report will reflect input the agency received from the commercial space sector, researchers and other U.S. and foreign agencies at a workshop it held in August in Washington, D.C., said Sam Scimemi, NASA’s ISS director, who spoke at a NASA advisory council meeting at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

According to NASA, one “takeaway” from that workshop is that a commercial module attached to the ISS might be a "better starting point" for meeting initial demand for LEO services than an independent commercial space station.

While the United States is currently committed to supporting the ISS through 2024, Scimemi said that many station elements would still have considerable structural life after 2028. Some components, though, including solar arrays, would need to be replaced by the end of the 2020s, he added.

NASA already buys commercial launch services to send cargo to the space station, with the next mission, a SpaceX Falcon 9, scheduled to lift off Dec. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The agency is pursuing a similar arrangement for crew transportation. In addition, an inflatable space habitat prototype made by Bigelow Aerospace has been attached to the space station since 2016.

Also during the advisory council meeting, William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said an updated version of the global exploration roadmap, which describes international space exploration efforts, will be released in January. The roadmap helps space agencies identify areas of potential cooperation, he said.

Gerstenmaier told lawmakers earlier in November that NASA is also writing a congressionally mandated roadmap focused on deep-space exploration and intends to send a report on it to Congress in December.

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