Space may no longer be the final frontier. NASA recently announced that it will open up the International Space Station (ISS) to tourism and other commercial opportunities. It will allow tourists to visit the orbiting station from 2020, at $35,000 per night.
The space agency is also reaching out to the private space industry to pitch ideas for habitats and modules that can be attached to the ISS semi-permanently. This announcement came at NASDAQ stock exchange in New York when. Three senior NASA members, including NASA Chief Financial Officer, Jeff DeWitt, said,
“The International Space Station is open for commercial business.”
This move is aligned with NASA’s aim to focus its resources on sending humans to the moon by 2024. The agency spends $3-4 billion a year to operate ISS, and by handing over certain control to private sectors, it can spend its time, money, and resources on some of its ambitious missions.
As per NASA regulations, private companies can buy time and space on the ISS for producing, marketing, or testing their products. Further, if required, the companies can also use ISS’s resources and astronaut expertise, reports The Verge.
What’s interesting is that even private astronauts can be sent to space by the companies, possibly by the end of 2020.
While space may seem within reach, there’s a hefty price tag attached. As per Live Mint, the cost of an entire flight would be a whopping $50 million per seat. Jeff said,
“If you look at the pricing and you add it up, back of a napkin, it would be roughly $35,000 a night, per astronaut. But it won't come with any Hilton or Marriott points.”
NASA said there would be only two private trips to ISS per year, each lasting 30 days. In terms of reaching out to ISS, Space X and Boeing are on the path to make it happen.
For now, to understand how space can be commercialised, the space agency has commissioned 12 companies to study possibilities. The idea would be either to attach a private space habitat to ISS or fly free in low earth orbit. These upcoming facility would serve as a research laboratory or for private visitors to view space.
In a conversation with The Verge, Jeff Manber, CEO, NanoRacks, said,
“You see, the space agency is looking at probably another 10 years of the ISS being in orbit, and saying, ‘Okay, how do we move forward? Let’s put our toes in the water on purely commercial projects. Let’s begin to allow tourism. And let’s begin to have the first commercial platforms supported by NASA. And so it’s a very important step forward. This is the beginning of a new chapter.”