NASA: The International Space Station Is Open for Commercial Business in Orbit

NEW YORK — As NASA shifts its priorities to landing astronauts to the moon, it is opening the International Space Station for commercial business, agency officials announced today (June 7) at a news conference here at the Nasdaq MarketSite. 

Private companies can now apply to launch short-duration commercial crew missions to the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct for-profit activities like off-Earth manufacturing, marketing and advertising. 

Although the private astronauts won't work for NASA, they will still receive rigorous astronaut training from NASA to ensure that they are qualified for spaceflight. Those astronauts will be able to launch on commercial crew vehicles like SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner.

Related: Low Earth Orbit Commercialization Studies Show Wide Range of Markets and Demand 

NASA is currently planning to end its support of the ISS by 2024, the same year that NASA astronauts are slated to return to the surface of the moon. With or without NASA, the 20-year-old station is approaching the end of its lifetime. So, rather than abandoning the aging laboratory, NASA is transitioning the station's operations to the private sector to stimulate the development of a low-Earth-orbit economy and give companies a place to demonstrate technologies needed for the 2024 moon landing

Commercializing the ISS "will enable NASA to focus resources to land the next man and the first woman on the moon by 2024," Jeff DeWit, NASA's chief financial officer, told reporters during the news conference. 

After 2024, the ISS will be in the hands of NASA's commercial and international partners, but the agency isn't retreating from the station entirely. Rather, NASA will become one of many customers that can purchase services at the ISS at a lower cost to taxpayers than what it currently costs for NASA to those things on its own, DeWit said. 

More than 50 companies are already using the ISS for research and development. Under NASA's new policy, commercial entities will have the opportunity to broaden the scope of their activities at the orbiting lab, to include manufacturing, marketing, advertising and other for-profit activities, Robyn Gatens, NASA's deputy director for the ISS program, said at the news conference. 

NASA has published detailed guidelines for private companies wishing to apply for use of the ISS, which you can read here

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.