Nasa has released short proposals from 12 firms to explore ways of creating a viable commercial economy in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Nasa selected the companies to complete studies about the commercialisation of LEO and the International Space Station.

The project is aimed at assessing the potential growth of a low-Earth orbit economy and how to stimulate private demand for commercial human spaceflight.

It has received input from Axiom Space, Blue Origin, The Boeing Company, Deloitte Consulting, KBRWyle, Lockheed Martin, McKinsey & Company, NanoRacks, Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada, Space Adventures and Maxar Technologies.

Firms studied what a commercially viable industry in LEO could look like. They explored commercialisation concepts and technical configurations for habitable platforms in LEO, either through the International Space Station or a free-flying platform.

They also studied business plans that explore the feasibility of commercial destinations, the role of government and evolution of the space station in the roadmap to the commercialisation of LEO.

These inputs revealed several potential markets that could be part of the future ecosystem in LEO.

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High costs for crew and cargo transportation pose a barrier to market entry for both company and consumer.

“Nasa will continue to need LEO for microgravity research and testing that will help the agency to reach the moon and Mars.quot;

A way to cut down transportation costs could be with economies of scale that could be achieved through a larger market.

Nasa could play a key role in helping to stimulate and facilitate market growth by providing access to the space station to catalyse new markets, help in technology development, and strengthen the burgeoning industry.

The space agency is likely to be a key customer to future commercially operated destinations in LEO.

Nasa will continue to need LEO for microgravity research and testing that will help the agency to reach the moon and Mars, including landing the first woman on the moon.

Offering expanded opportunities for commercial activities at the space station could aid catalyse and expand markets, enabling a strong economy in space for many businesses.