Never in the history of spaceflight has potential for economic growth been so widespread or space so accessible to American industry, researchers, innovators and explorers.

Today, American companies are sending hundreds of experiments to orbit that improve products and benefit our lives on Earth. Students are monitoring satellites of their own design while scientists are studying Earth right now, in real-time, from orbit. NASA astronauts are advancing the knowledge we need to send humans on our Journey to Mars. It’s a reality made possible by the International Space Station and the U.S. commercial space industry, opening the high frontier of space.

ome 250 miles overhead, space station astronauts are hard at work on experiments not possible on Earth, carried to space by NASA’s commercial and international partners. The lack of gravity inside the space station and extreme environment of space outside our orbiting outpost create new possibilities for research in areas ranging from medical treatments, advanced materials manufacturing, robotics and even efficient water recycling and plant growth. The space station’s altitude and inclination also provide a unique vantage point for commercial companies to experiment with Earth-monitoring and -viewing equipment.

The space station is a national asset that actively improves lives on our home planet. In fact, a portion of the space station has been designated a U.S. National Laboratory dedicated to wide-ranging scientific research.

Businesses, researchers and educators interested in learning about the space station’s facilities and how to fly experiments to orbit can work with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the national lab under a cooperative agreement with NASA and helps maximize its use. The nonprofit CASIS selects research and funds projects, and connects investors and scientists, making access to the station faster and easier while fostering America’s new space economy. 

To date, CASIS has provided millions in funding for dozens of experiments successfully flown to the space station and returned to researchers on Earth. Companies like Merck, Novartis and Proctor & Gamble have made research advances aboard the laboratory. Current and upcoming CASIS-sponsored research could transform understanding of physical and life sciences, clean energy, materials manufacturing and our changing planet.

A significant portion of the commercial research taking place aboard the station is made possible by NanoRacks hardware. The company has invested privately raised capital toprovide laboratory facilities for small payloads, including cubesats deployed from the space station, that make research faster and more affordable. Future plans include an external module for experiments that will be attached to the outside of the orbiting complex.

Under its cooperative agreement with NASA, CASIS will co-host this year’s ISS Research and Development Conference with the American Astronautical Society in Boston July 7-9. Attendees will learn more about the space station’s research potential. NASA is also collaborating in the upcoming Space Commerce Conference and Exposition (SpaceCom) in Houston Nov. 17-19, which will explore opportunities for business innovation in space across the medical, energy, transportation, communications and advanced manufacturing industries.

Emerging commercial opportunities in low-Earth orbit are made possible by the growing U.S. commercial spaceflight industry, which will play a leading role this century in opening space for public and private innovation. Two U.S. commercial partners, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, are routinely providing cargo transportation services aboard new spacecraft and rockets. The increased cadence of launches has significantly increased the amount of research being conducted. 

NASA also plans to use a new generation of spacecraft, privately developed and operated by Boeing and SpaceX, to carry as many as four astronauts per mission, increasing the space station crew complement to seven and doubling the amount of scientific research that can be performed. Preparations are already taking place to reconfigure the space station in preparation for commercial crew.  

NASA’s work with commercial industry for low-Earth orbit transportation benefits the American public in two important ways. First, it allows NASA to expand human exploration efforts to destinations deeper in the solar system, including to an asteroid and Mars. Commercial companies are providing many of the key innovations needed for these missions now and in the future.

The second benefit is economic, with NASA stimulating the growth of a robust U.S. commercial space industry. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program alone has more than 150 subcontractors across 37 states helping create modern space systems for low-Earth orbit transportation. This means high-paying careers in the critical science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields that will ensure the United States maintains its leadership in 21st century spaceflight. New markets are emerging with these new capabilities in spaceflight, creating the potential for private research, space tourism and other endeavors beyond the public purposes of NASA’s space exploration.

Perhaps most importantly, NASA’s work with the private sector to enable research and new transportation systems is creating a modern space age, where opportunities just beyond our atmosphere are open to everyone, limited only by our imaginations.