by Jose Salgado
On June 2019, NASA presented the Interim Directive for the use of the ISS for commercial and marketing activities, which makes available 5% of the agency’s annual allocation of crew resources and cargo capability for commercial non-R&D use.
Using this new Directive, the cosmetic company Estée Lauder is among the first ones to be flying 10 bottles of skin serum to the ISS, where 3 will be auctioned off for charity when returned and 7 used for photography within the cupola, at $128,000.
How does this idea come about? “Estée Lauder approached us because they realized they needed help with their interface with NASA. They didn’t speak “space language” whereas we are the company that can translate terrestrial propositions to that language.”, says Cynthia Bouthot, President of Space Commerce Matters.
This Directive is a great initiative to create a wider LEO marketplace, but some groups believe that NASA’s space resources should only be available for science. In that regard, Cynthia believes that “It doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both. There is still so much science going on with the ISS and in LEO. As countries focus more on the exploration agenda (Moon, Mars, and beyond), they are looking for LEO to become commercialized. The commercial allocation is a way to do this and to allow NASA and other space agencies to become one of many customers, not the ONLY customer for LEO based activity. The commercial revenue generated from these projects can support even more science.”
Mike Read, International Space Station Business and Economic Development Manager said that “NASA seeks to enable a sustainable commercial demand for a low-Earth orbit platform, leveraging, for now, the resources and capabilities of the ISS. Eventually, this demand, along with NASA’s own needs for a low-Earth orbit platform, will migrate to a commercially-owned and –operated station. Estée Lauder and others are simply some of the first companies to take advantage of the resources NASA has made available for purchase.
The marketing activities are currently heavily regulated and include no visible part of an astronaut on the material, but this might change as the concept of “private astronauts” visiting the ISS becomes more relevant.
“NASA fully expects that private astronauts will enter into agreements with companies to perform numerous activities while they are on the ISS. As the private sector develops new capabilities, NASA intends to ensure that we are not competing with them, so will continue to monitor, evaluate, and adapt our strategies as the nascent low-Earth orbit economy evolves.” concludes Mike Read.
President of the Canadian Chamber in Italy, a Chamber 2.0 that focuses on innovation and new technologies. Honorary advisor to the Italian Intergovernmental committee for space. Columnist at COSMO magazine and Business Insider Mexico. Space Economy advisor.