Chinese space station emerges as a competitor of commercial enterprises

WASHINGTON – Companies involved in business activities on the International Space Station or planning their own space stations could face a new competitor in China’s new space station.

In a presentation at the ISS research and development conference on August 4, Jeff Manber, chief executive of Nanoracks, said his company has already lost business to China and its space station. .

“I lost a client, my first client that I lost on my way to the Chinese space station,” he said. “We are in competition now. “

He did not identify the client or what he planned to do. Nanoracks has several lines of business on the ISS today, from hosting experiments and external payloads to using the station as a platform for launching small satellites.

Chinese authorities have said they are willing to cooperate with other countries regarding the use of the station. Ji Qiming, deputy director of the China Manned Space Agency, told the China Daily in June that he had selected nine science projects from 17 countries to fly to the station, and was working with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs to identify others. This could also include the flight of astronauts from other countries to the station.

Manber said it was a reminder of the need for US leadership to attract international users of the ISS. “There should be no doubt that these are important ways to retain not only that gentle leadership, American leadership, but also the way we learn and how capital flows,” he said. “If we don’t, we open the door for others to come in and take leadership. “

Nanoracks is a major commercial user of the ISS, but is also considering the eventual transition to commercial platforms. The company announced on August 2 that it has hired former NASA official Marshall Smith as the new senior vice president for commercial space stations, leading projects such as efforts to convert the upper stages of launchers into platforms. -commercial forms.

“We are doubling down on the International Space Station, and yet, at the same time, we are starting to envision a new era of commercial space stations,” he said. “We need to start planning what will happen when the ISS begins to retire at the end of this decade.”

This “doubling” on the ISS includes Bishop, a commercial airlock module that Nanoracks developed and installed on the station last December, allowing the company to launch more satellites and install external payloads. He warned, however, that NASA may be focusing too much on new hardware as it seeks to support commercialization efforts.

“NASA hasn’t come across any new material that it doesn’t like,” he said. “Everyone is fascinated by the material and not focused on the demand. This approach, he said, can reduce the use of existing equipment and therefore their economic returns to companies and their investors. “If investors aren’t seeing good returns, they’re not as interested in promoting other ideas on the demand side.”

Eventually, Manber said he expects the ISS to be replaced by several commercial platforms, optimized for specific applications ranging from tourism to research. These facilities will be designed from the outset for commercial use, which is not the case with the ISS today.

“The ISS was a political station as well as a technical marvel, but the rules and regulations that need to be in place limit the market for what you can do,” he said. “I think there will be market niches that allow you to specialize and encourage transportation and development in space.”


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