NASA’s Five Major Mission Goals
In January 2022, NASA published the ISS Transition Report. The report presents NASA plans related to decommissioning the ISS in 2030. It also introduces associated changes to NASA’s mission goals. The report lists five major mission goals:
- Enable deep space exploration
- Conduct research to benefit humanity
- Foster a US commercial space industry
- Lead and enable international collaboration
- Inspire humankind
NASA Major Mission Goal: Foster a US Commercial Space Industry
This article reviews the specific 2030 mission goal of Foster a US Commercial Space Industry. Relative to that specific goal the following items are reviewed: objectives, implementation strategies, and current status.
- Create a robust commercial LEO marketplace by enabling the development of commercially- owned and -operated LEO destinations (CLD) and associated research capabilities that are safe, reliable, and cost-effective and allow NASA to be one of many customers;
- Ensure NASA can meet its needs in LEO, as it transitions from ISS operations to new CLDs that are commercially-owned and -operated;
- Drive down costs so NASA can free resources to be used for future human space exploration on its Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars as well as on other missions; and
- Utilize innovative, nontraditional arrangements for acquiring commercial space goods and services to meet NASA requirements.
- Support the development of CLDs through the Commercial LEO Development Program supply strategy;
- Create research/applications roadmaps for promising areas and develop strategies and partnerships to advance activities on roadmaps; continue demand stimulation activities for in- space production activities, partnering with other Government agencies to co-fund areas of intersecting interests;
- Continue using ISS to grow commercial interest and markets by facilitating commercial activities, including Private Astronaut Missions; and
- Use or create expanded procurement approaches to drive the transition of Government purchasing towards procurement of commercial services, including research facilities on CLDs.
NASA’s 2030+/Post-ISS Plan
- One or more CLDs are available to meet forecasted needs;
- Cost of LEO services to NASA is significantly reduced;
- Commercial demand for tourism, in-space manufacturing, and other activities supplements business for CLDs beyond U.S. Government needs; and
- Multiple commercial crew and cargo transportation and research capability providers exist.
The U.S. Congress’s NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 directed NASA to develop an ISS Transition Plan, specifically “to transition in a step-wise approach from the current regime that relies heavily on NASA sponsorship to a regime where NASA could be one of many customers of a LEO non-governmental human space flight enterprise.” To that end, NASA assessed its potential future needs in LEO, such as space life and physical sciences research derived from the National Academies Decadal Survey, remaining research on the effects of the space environment on humans, technology demonstrations, life cycle testing of systems intended to be deployed in deeper space, and in-flight crew training. They published a white paper entitled Forecasting Future NASA Demand in Low-Earth Orbit: Revision Two – Quantifying Demand which forecasts the services NASA intends to purchase as a customer in this sustainable LEO marketplace. NASA published the forecast to aid private industry in planning for future commercial LEO destination capabilities.
Although there are many LEO commercial service and capability suppliers on the horizon, the ultimate viability of a non-Government enterprise is dependent upon whether there will be sufficient demand for those capabilities and services beyond NASA’s needs. In a mature, sustainable LEO market, commercial destinations will have robust business bases that rely on NASA as one of many customers instead of as a primary tenant.
NASA created the Commercial LEO Development Program as a focused effort to develop a robust commercial space economy in LEO and lower the Agency’s costs in the long-term. To achieve these goals, NASA is committed to enabling the development of a LEO economy through supporting the development of increased supply (i.e., future LEO destinations providing services) and demand (i.e., commercial market and demand for on-orbit services or products of commercial value).
The Commercial LEO Development Program will enable the development of commercially-owned and -operated LEO destinations that are safe, reliable, and cost-effective, and allow NASA to be one of many customers. The ISS is also enabling the development of a commercially-owned and -operated LEO destination by hosting a new commercial segment by Axiom Space that will attach to the ISS Node 2 forward port and expand the habitable volume for commercial research and other activities.
Creating a robust LEO economy relies on bringing many new businesses and people into space and will require the development of supply of services and demand for those capabilities. NASA supported the first Private Astronaut Mission on the ISS in 2022. Private Astronaut Missions are dedicated missions that are privately-funded, fully-commercial spaceflights that enable tourism, outreach, commercial research, and NASA-approved commercial and marketing activities on ISS. NASA has also opened the ISS for business by expanding opportunities for in-space manufacturing, marketing, and promoting commercial products and services aboard the station. As NASA increases the opportunities for business on ISS, the goal is for the number and types of companies taking advantage of those opportunities to also increase, and that in turn could help create more demand.
NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services and Commercial Crew Programs are also enabling multiple companies to develop and operate the next generation of spacecraft and launch systems. Commercial transportation to and from the space station has fueled the growing market share of US launch providers in the world marketplace and driven down launch costs, making space accessible to a broader market, and is providing expanded utility, additional research time, and broader opportunities for discovery and space exploration. An important goal of this commercialization strategy is to encourage the development of new industrial capabilities, enabling these companies to sell future services to all customers, not just to NASA.
A robust LEO economy ensures national interests for research and development in space are fulfilled while allowing NASA to focus Government resources on deep space exploration through the Artemis program and land the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon.