Scientific News

NASA’s top human spaceflight manager says the International Space Station holds the key to a shift from government to commercial access to low Earth orbit, driving the nascent market for new human-rated vehicles as researchers find industrial uses for its microgravity environment.

Speaking to the annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference, William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said the station already provides a significant launch market that can only grow as the orbiting lab is better utilized.

In 2012 the ISS was the destination of 15% of the total number of space launches worldwide. If the field is narrowed to the 17 comparable launches of spacecraft to low or geostationary transfer orbits, the 12 flights to the station represent a major new source of revenue, he said. And it is a new type of market, in that launch vehicle reliability for cargo isn’t as crucial as for expensive satellites.

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