PASADENA, California. – Companies interested in developing commercial space stations and related low-ground facilities are wondering whether NASA's support for such efforts has been overshadowed by the agency's rush back to the moon.
NASA requested $ 150 million in fiscal year 2019 for new commercial LEO development program. The final Omnibus expense account for 2019, adopted in February, gave $ 40 million to the effort, with reporting languages that led to the spending of the money "for the LEO gateway implementation analysis and other activities to enable future commercial activities on the international space station. "  NASA has not yet announced its plans to use this funding. The panelists at a session at Space Tech Expo noted here May 21
"You have to find the golden nugget demand," said Thomas Martin, director of launch and human exploration strategy and business development at Aerojet Rocketdyne. It would include products and services that can control a price that is high enough to make it profitable despite the cost of getting in and out of circuits. "How do we take the money and seeds that the market demands?"
However, others argued that a more urgent question is supply. "There is a port back at the station and everyone wants it," said Mike Lewis, NanoRacks Innovation Manager. NASA has previously discussed the issue of a company call to submit proposals to use this port, but has not proceeded with these plans.
Lewis claimed that funding could help alleviate the lack of construction of a docking node. "Forty million dollars would just build you a" T "that could give you three places or more," he said. "It would allow many more users."
However, the lack of visible progress on NASA's LEO commercialization efforts has led some to wonder if it remains a priority for an agency now tasked with turning people back to the surface of the moon by 2024. " LEO advertising was obscured by the moon's landing? " asked Mike French, senior vice president of commercial space at Bryce Space and Technology.
Industry believes it is still a priority, even though there is not so much attention to it as it was a year ago when NASA proposed to close federal funding of the ISS by 2025. "I don't think anyone want to give up low landslide right now, "Martin said. "From our perspective, I think the station has a role in the next decade, at least."
"I think it's really good to have direction" like returning to the moon by 2024, Lewis said. He added that his company has seen some restructuring of contracts in the wake of the announcement to give more focus to getting to the moon, which causes the company to think about how to ensure that commercialization is not left out in the planning.  He and others have no shortage of potential applications for commercial platforms, either attached to the station or free flying. Al Tadros, Vice President of Space Infrastructure and Civil Space at Maxar Technologies, said his company studied for NASA as a "non-living space station": a platform where robotic systems would read cargo from visiting spacecraft and use it to assemble spacecraft and other structures without the restrictions imposed on spacecraft built on the ground.
"We didn't look at it from a question, can it be done," he said. "It's the economy of doing it."
Commercial facilities could also host research laboratories, including those for government. "I think there will always be a need for a state-funded research center in space," said Christine Ketz, vice president of programs and partnerships at ISS National Laboratory, the organization that runs the part of the ISS designated as a national laboratory. "If the International Space Station becomes obsolete and it's time to move on to another vehicle, I think there are plenty of companies looking at how to do better."
Lewis was more skeptical about a potential market, at least for ISS: tourism. "We have actually looked at this as a business case and yes, we could just do that," he said, adding a tourism module to the station. "But is it satisfactory? Is that what we want the space station's legacy to be? Not necessarily."