In a somewhat surprising move, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced last week it will rent out portions of the International Space Station (ISS) to private corporations. The plan also includes provisions to allow private astronauts to travel to the space station. According to a NASA press release, the new policy hopes to stimulate partnerships between the organization and commercial entities.
“NASA will continue research and testing in low-Earth orbit to inform its lunar exploration plans, while also working with the private sector to test technologies, train astronauts and strengthen the burgeoning space economy,” the agency wrote in a press release. “Providing expanded opportunities at the International Space Station to manufacture, market and promote commercial products and services will help catalyze and expand space exploration markets for many businesses.”
In addition to private astronauts, corporations can now send products for use on the ISS as well. Previously this was impossible, as NASA had a strict policy on what it would allow onto the space station. However, the new move opens up significant revenue-generating possibilities as space becomes more privatized.
“It’s no longer just for science and research,” said Marco Caceres, a senior space analyst for Teal Group, while speaking the Los Angeles Times. “You’re allowing ventures to come in and use that space for profit, for making money. That’s not a small thing.”
While this is a new frontier for NASA, the Russian space program has long been more accommodating of private ventures. According to a 2001 report from the BBC, Russian cosmonauts have placed advertisements for companies like Pizza Hut on the sides of their rockets and the organization sold ad space to Kodak on its portion of the ISS.
Despite the paradigm shift at NASA, space tourism to the ISS will be out of grasp for the majority of people. One report from the L.A. Times placed the price tag for a private astronaut trip to the ISS at $58 million. An additional fee of approximately $35,000 per day would also be required. Still, NASA said private citizens could book a trip to the ISS as early as 2020.
While the ISS may become a money-making machine for NASA, the space station’s life span is not infinite. Then-NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in 2016 that the ISS could be in use until 2028, according to Inverse. That leaves the agency about eight years to profit off of its commercialization. However, 2028 is the upper limit estimate. Originally, the ISS was only expected to be operation until 2016.