NASA is planning to competitively select a nonprofit organization to manage experiments aboard the international space station (ISS) and plans to host a public forum Dec. 10 to discuss the new initiative, the U.S. space agency announced Dec. 1.

A draft cooperative agreement is due out the same day as the public forum, which will be held at NASA headquarters in Washington.

NASA said it is seeking an independent, nonprofit research management organization to develop and manage the space station’s U.S. portion, which Congress formally designated a national laboratory in 2005. “NASA recognizes the station is an extraordinary asset for the nation,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a Dec. 1 statement, adding that the orbiting lab could contribute to U.S. growth and prosperity in high-tech sectors. “By taking this action we are ensuring the station is available for broad, meaningful and sustained use.”

According to eligibility criteria established in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 that U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law Oct. 11, NASA must enter into the space station cooperative agreement with a nonprofit group that is independent of other organizational responsibilities. The NASA Authorization Act also calls for operating the ISS through 2020 and requires NASA to guarantee that national laboratory experiments have access to “not less than 50 percent of the United States research capacity allocation.”

NASA expects to reserve approximately 50 percent of the space station research capacity for its own use, including human research programs, leaving the remaining facilities open to non-NASA research.