This piece is part of our ISS360 reflections series highlighting the 2022 International Space Station Research and Development Conference.
A group of commercial space industry leaders discussed the path to develop a new generation of space stations in low Earth orbit (LEO) at the 2022 International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC). The panel session included representatives from Axiom Space, Nanoracks, Northrop Grumman, and Sierra Space.
The companies are in the first phase of platform design, which involves creating plans for space stations and exploring the needs of potential customers that will benefit from space-based research and development. NASA has competitively awarded Axiom Space, Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Grumman opportunities to design free-flying commercial destinations in LEO.
Multiple space stations may eventually exist in LEO, each with its unique capabilities that NASA and other users can leverage once the International Space Station (ISS) is retired, said Angela Hart, program manager for the Commercial LEO Development Office at NASA. Right now, NASA is determining what is needed from a space station post ISS, Hart said. “We don’t necessarily want it to look like the ISS. We want to leave it very open-ended,” she said, adding that NASA wants the commercial industry to consider what kind of space stations are in high demand by markets.
Panelists agreed that the ISS has served as a stepping stone for new commercial LEO destinations, from the vehicles used to deliver payloads to operational procedures. Designers of new commercial destinations are working to make space-based research, technological development, and manufacturing more accessible than ever before and in ways that turn profits and fuel the economy on Earth and in LEO.
“If commercial space is not profitable, it won’t be sustained,” said Janet Kavandi, president of Sierra Space Corporation. It is essential for the space industry to provide the space and access where diverse customers can do previously impossible things, she said.
“Building a space station is easy—building the business is the hard part,” said Rick Mastracchio, director of strategy and business development at Northrop Grumman.
Watch the full ISSRDC panel discussion with commercial space industry leaders in the recorded session. ISSRDC is an annual event hosted by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (CASIS), manager of the ISS National Laboratory; NASA; and the American Astronautical Society (AAS). Learn more about how ISS National Lab is driving a robust economy in LEO on our website.