NASA has outlined a broad strategy to facilitate the commercialization of low-Earth orbit (LEO) by U.S. companies, and will enable private astronaut missions to the International Space Station as part of that strategy. NASA has conducted a detailed assessment of the costs associated with these missions, and as a result, the agency has updated its pricing policy for private astronaut missions to the space station.
A private astronaut mission is a commercial mission consisting of activities conducted by private astronauts aboard the space station or in a commercial element attached to the station, transported on a U.S. commercial spacecraft dedicated to this private mission. NASA is enabling up to two short-duration private astronaut missions per year to the International Space Station.
In June 2019, NASA first released its commercial marketing pricing policy to establish subsidized pricing to stimulate and enable the use of resources on the space station. NASA anticipated revisiting the pricing policy periodically and adjusting prices as market forces dictated in response to interest, market growth, and competition (reference NID 8600.121). The pricing policy from June 2019 did not reflect full reimbursement for the value of NASA resources; it was intended to stimulate the market and was planned to be adjusted. NASA revisited and adjusted the pricing policy for commercial activities in February 2021.
Based on discussions with stakeholders, the current market growth, and in anticipation of future commercial entities capable of providing similar services, the agency has also updated the pricing policy for private astronaut missions effective immediately. The new private astronaut mission pricing policy reflects the full value of costs to NASA that are above space station baseline capabilities. These baseline capabilities include in-orbit resources such as life support, power supply for the visiting spacecraft, crew laptops and tablets, and data downlinks.
The new pricing policy applies to proposals submitted under NASA Research Announcement (NRA) NNJ13ZBG001N Focus Area 4 Private Astronaut Missions to the International Space Station. Through the NRA, NASA will solicit proposals for mission specific flight opportunities and competitively evaluate proposals for a possible award. In addition, the NRA allows both private astronaut mission providers and potential customers of private astronaut mission providers to submit white papers to request NASA’s technical evaluation of their proposed activities and receive initial feedback from NASA about their mission concept.
The development and growth of the low-Earth orbit economy continues. NASA also recently announced that the agency is seeking input from industry on future commercial low-Earth orbit destinations that will provide low-Earth orbit services such as crew training, scientific research, and advanced systems development for both government and private-sector astronauts and customers.
The agency’s goal is a low-Earth orbit marketplace where NASA is one of many customers, and the private sector leads the way. This strategy will provide services the government needs at a lower cost, enabling the agency to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars while continuing to use low-Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.
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