NASA opens space station for business, including private astronaut missions with SpaceX and Boeing

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Since last decade, NASA has turned repeatedly to Colorado companies to produce the technology it needs to not only send astronauts on new lunar missions but also to Mars and into the depths of space. Above, the International Space Station.

NASA | Getty Images

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is opening the International Space Station (ISS) for more business, laying out its plan to do so at the Nasdaq stock exchange on Friday.

Companies will be allowed to bid for new activities on the ISS, as NASA unveiled a new directive to “enable commercial manufacturing and production and allow both NASA and private astronauts to conduct new commercial activities aboard the orbiting laboratory,” the agency said in a press release.

NASA is also opening up the ISS for “private astronaut missions of up to 30 days,” it said, “with the first mission as early as 2020.” As Boeing and SpaceX are developing capsules to carry humans to the ISS, the agency said the two companies will handle these private tourists and any services related to them. NASA will start with two private astronaut flights a year, with each trip lasting 30 days maximum each.

Each trip will likely cost over $50 million, with NASA getting $35,000 for each night a private astronaut spends on the International Space Station.

The commercialization of the ISS has long been considered a way to reduce NASA’s yearly costs for operating the station. Additionally, the ISS has been touted as a stepping stone to build an ecosystem of business in orbit around the Earth, so companies can manufacture, experiment, advertise and even host tourists.

Shortly after his appointment as NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine met with private companies about managing the space station. Although NASA has been increasing its reliance on private space companies, none of the companies working on low Earth orbit space habitats have expressed interest in taking over the ISS wholesale.

Boeing has been NASA’s primary contractor on the ISS ever since the aerospace giant was selected in 1993 to develop and build the floating lab. About a third of NASA’s more than $3 billion annual budget for the ISS is for operating costs, according to the Washington Post last year.

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