The maturation of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory was on display at the recent ISS Research and Development (R&D) Conference in San Diego, California. This conference represents a broad focus across all disciplines that use the space station laboratory. It complements the different discipline-specific conferences that are attended by researchers that use the ISS by providing results across different disciplines from biology and physics to Earth science and technology development. I would like to take this opportunity to share some perspectives from the conference.
With record attendance, the conference drew a large number of users who have not done space research before. This is a key objective of the declaration of the ISS as a U.S. National Laboratory by Congress and of this unique conference. These potential new researchers came for information on past research results, facilities, and sources of funding. Their goal was not to answer questions of interest to NASA, but to make novel connections that would allow the ISS National Lab to contribute to the economy and quality of life on Earth.
Keynote addresses from innovative researchers and technology leaders were there to inspire creativity, including Dr. Eric Topol from Scripps University talking about translational medicine, Dr. Peter Diamandis of the XPRIZE Foundation talking about the future of technology, and Scott and Mark Kelly talking about the recent One-Year Mission to the ISS and the Twins Study with medical journalist Dr. Sanjay Gupta. A number of key results presented at the conference are summarized in this issue of Upward.
One thing that stood out across the conference was the type of partnerships that are growing and developing. The first is the partnership between NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the ISS as a National Laboratory. Across many different events and speeches by leaders at NASA, CASIS, and private companies, it was clear that the National Laboratory approach for the space station is facilitating economic development in low Earth orbit.
The international partnerships that are the core of the space station were also dynamic at the conference. One example is a special pre-conference meeting that was held by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to share information about unique Japanese facilities available to American researchers. Two teams of Japanese investigators also received awards for their innovative results in the past year. The five international partner agencies—NASA, JAXA, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and Roscosmos coordinate facilities to enhance capabilities for researchers around the world.
A third set of partnerships that showed their strength at the conference were the relationships between researchers, who may not know NASA’s processes and approaches, and implementation partners—companies with the expertise to help researchers transfer Earth-based experiments to the ISS. It was clear that the productivity of the National Laboratory is linked to companies such as NanoRacks, Space Tango, Made in Space, Techshot, and Bioserve Space Technologies, and that these companies are helping to make it easier and faster than ever before to access the ISS National Lab. Under an initiative called RISE (Revolutionize ISS for Science and Exploration), NASA has been using feedback from companies such as these and streamlining requirements and processes to make space access simpler and more cost effective than ever.
Perhaps most exciting to me was the new set of funding partnerships that were developing and emerging at the conference. One of the key principles of the ISS as a National Laboratory is that Congress intended for funding from the private sector and other government agencies to provide part of the research support, while NASA would continue to fund exploration-related research and ISS operations. Conference attendees had the opportunity to participate in business-to-business sessions for pitching R&D concepts and business models for providing services in low Earth orbit. Between sessions, the conference space was filled with side meetings, as companies met and forged new business relationships and scientists traded observations and brainstormed new experiments. What an amazing week!