ISS News: May 2019 Archives

Study Input Informs NASA Course for a Vibrant Future Commercial Space Economy

"New insights from companies in the growing space economy are helping NASA chart a course for the future of commercial human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit. Input the companies provided to NASA as part of the studies will inform NASA's future policies to support commercial activities that enable a robust low-Earth orbit economy. NASA selected the following companies to complete studies about the commercialization of low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station, assessing the potential growth of a low-Earth orbit economy and how to best stimulate private demand for commercial human spaceflight."

Summaries of each company's proposals

Keith's note: I got a note with these links from NASA HQ PAO today after I had been tweeting complaints about an ISS presentation by Robyn Gatens and Sam Scimemi at the NAC HEO committee today. Up until today NASA had only made hints as to what the studies they asked for actually said. Oddly neither Gatens or Scimemi made any mention that this material had been publicly released. PAO knows more about ISS commercialization than the ISS program senior management does, so it would seem. Also, if you go to the CASIS webpage they make no mention of any of these things.

Keith's note: On page 4 of CASIS FY18 Q2 Quarterly Report for the Period January 1 - March 31, 2018 CASIS says:

"As manager of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, CASIS seeks to maximize both utilization of in-orbit resources and downstream value to life on Earth. To support these efforts, CASIS developed a methodology to assess the value creation of the projects in its portfolio. Working with external subject matter experts in an annual meeting, CASIS estimated (as of year-end FY17) the future value of the ISS National Lab portfolio will exceed $900 million in incremental revenue from addressable markets totaling more than $110 billion. Additional parameters indicating positive value to the nation include a time-to-market acceleration of 1-3 years and the development of more than 20 new solution pathways (a measure of innovation that can lead to a major advance in knowledge or new intellectual property). These data are updated annually but included in each quarterly report."

What does this even mean? Where is the "incremental revenue" being generated? On Earth? In space? Both? What are the "addressable markets"? How does CASIS know that these addressable markets are or will be $110 billion in size? Is CASIS saying that the stuff on the ISS i.e. "the ISS National Lab portfolio" is (or will be) producing revenue - in excess of $900 million? Where is this money coming from and where is it going i.e where is all of the selling happening? What is the time frame - years? Decades? Is this the CASIS portfolio (do they own things?) or is this NASA stuff? Or both? Is any company making a profit on their investment in their research on ISS? If so, then who are these companies? And what are these "solution pathways"?

CASIS is telling NASA in its official quarterly reports that the $15 million a year NASA spends on CASIS is resulting (or will result) in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue - or potential revenue - on stuff that CASIS is doing - stuff that could be worth $110 billion. Who are the lucky people who are going to be making this windfall? Names please. This certainly sounds great - but does CASIS actually explain any of their methodology - methodology they produced with NASA funding? No. They say that this is all updated annually but it never seems to be disseminated to NASA or to the taxpayers who are footing this party. Why is that? Is this how NASA is going to conduct its vastly expanded commercialization of the ISS in order to pay for its exploration plans - econo-babble and imaginary space markets?

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Larger image Source: CASIS FY17 Q2 Quarterly Report for the Period January 1 - March 31, 2017, page 12

Keith's note: When it comes to the utilization of the U.S. National Laboratory aboard the International Space Station, its what CASIS does with the free resources that they are offered by NASA that counts. The most important, and often the most limited resource, is crew time. As you can see in the figure above, as of mid-2017, CASIS has had a hard time using all of the crew time that NASA has given to CASIS.

Starting in mid-2018 CASIS stopped including detailed summaries of their actual ISS utilization (including previous year's percentages) in these quarterly reports to NASA. That's somewhat less than transparent. Let's see how they report how they have been doing in the past year. Stay tuned.

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Larger image Source: CASIS FY18 Q2 Quarterly Report for the Period January 1 - March 31, 2018, page 22

Brian Talbot VP for Marketing & Outreach is out. A few weeks ago Joe Vockley fired Randy Giles, VP & Chief Scientific Officer. That's 15 firings since Vockley.


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Keith's note: I just read this during the public input portion of today's NASA Advisory Council Regulatory and Policy Committee Meeting:

"My name is Keith Cowing. I am a former NASA civil servant and space biologist whose job in the 1990s entailed many of the utilization tasks currently assigned to CASIS - except we were planning them before there was an actual space station. CASIS has had nearly a decade to get up to speed with regard to its responsibilities as laid out in their NASA cooperative agreement and as a non-profit entity. CASIS has a guaranteed annual income of $15 million which is provided to CASIS - by NASA - regardless of the quality of performance demonstrated by CASIS. After nearly a decade CASIS still relies upon NASA for 99.9% of its funding.

Despite being given a government sanctioned monopoly on the utilization of the US portion of the ISS - the so-called ISS National Laboratory - CASIS has yet to be able to fully utilize the on-orbit resources given to it by NASA - including the all important crew time. CASIS has been unable to provide adequate metrics to explain what it does. Both the NASA Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have found significant problems with CASIS' performance as well as NASA's management of CASIS which could be characterized as being somewhat of an absentee landlord. When CASIS was given its ISS role NASA only envisioned partial utilization of its overall ISS assets - those covered by the ISS National Lab. Now, a decade later, NASA envisions turning over the totality of its operations on board the ISS to the private sector. To do so NASA needs to totally revisit how it manages ISS including the CASIS Cooperative Agreement.

Given that CASIS is already incapable of meeting its chartered responsibilities on just a portion of the ISS it is unlikely that it can be expected to assume additional responsibilities that would go with managing all U.S. assets on the ISS. As such I would urge NASA to end its agreement with CASIS and re-compete these ISS National Lab responsibilities as part of a larger effort to transfer operations of the ISS to a commercial entity - if that is indeed where NASA intends to go.

The ISS is an unprecedented research facility - one who's full potential has yet to be fully realized. Despite what they might want you to believe CASIS is not the solution to the under utilization of the ISS. Rather, CASIS is the cause of its under utilization. This under utilization has gone on for far too long. Indeed CASIS often seems to be far more interested in comic book character tie-ins than doing quality science.

NASA needs to get this whole utilization thing fixed before the agency tries to commercialize anything more on the ISS. Not to do so will be to continue to waste an astonishing facility - one constructed at great expense.

Thank you for your time."


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This page is an archive of entries in the ISS News category from May 2019.

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