NASA & U.S. National Lab Expand Commercial Research Opportunities in Space

Astronaut Jack Fischer working with the CASIS PCG 6 experiment in the Japanese Experiment Module. The U.S. National Lab enables space research and development access to a broad range of commercial, academic, and government users. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Designated a national laboratory, the U.S. segment of the International Space Station supports hundreds of ground-breaking government and commercial experiments in microgravity each year. NASA recently extended management of the lab to the Center for the Advancement of Science and Space (CASIS) until 2024.  In addition, NASA is announcing that it is providing a class patent waiver to third party users who privately fund their research so that these users can automatically gain title to their inventions made aboard the space station.

CASIS is responsible for maximizing the value of station’s national lab for all non-NASA research. The company facilitates and prioritizes access to commercial entities, other government agencies, and educational institutions for experiments in fields including life sciences, physical sciences, remote sensing, technology and education.

“Since 2011, CASIS has been on the front lines partnering with users big and small to drive novel research to our unique microgravity laboratory,” said Kirk Shireman, manager, International Space Station Program. “We look forward to continuing our work with CASIS to take full advantage of the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit.”

“The past few years have brought tremendous growth and excitement from the research community through use of the national laboratory,” said Gregory H. Johnson, CASIS president and executive director. “We are honored to extend our relationship with NASA, collectively seeking to expand the limits of research discovery through microgravity. Additionally, by providing avenues to enhance the ownership of intellectual property rights, we hope to incentivize more commercial companies to think beyond Earth’s horizons for its next game-changing discovery.”

The issuance of the class patent waiver is intended to provide further incentive for commercial companies to take advantage of space station opportunities as it grants full ownership of inventions gained through microgravity research.

Regular commercial cargo deliveries to the station from Orbital ATK and SpaceX ensure the extensive, ongoing scientific research aboard the space station continues. SpaceX launched its 12th contracted commercial resupply services (CRS) mission to the station Aug. 14 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Among the dozens of experiments delivered in the Dragon spacecraft is an investigation to help scientists better understand the pathology of Parkinson’s disease and aid in development of therapies. Other CASIS-sponsored investigations will look at the freeze-drying process in microgravity, as well examine how stem cells may grow into specialized heart cells.

In 2019, NASA will expand its commercial resupply service partners to three, adding Sierra Nevada Corporation to the mix, and ensuring regular deliveries to the space station. The second generation CRS missions will also overlap with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which will not only deliver important research and supplies to the station, but carry additional crew members to live and work on station.

For more than 16 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

  • What percentage of the way are we to actual, unsupported commercial profitability on the ISS? Is it reasonable to expect that, by 2024, we could be able to transition to a profitable, commercial station without needing special government subsidies? I’m doubtful.

  • windbourne

    Depends on how commercial space does this.
    They CAN make it profitable, but not with lab research being the primary focus.
    They MUST make helping other nations set up space programs to go to the moon with the real money maker.