Space Station:

Status of Efforts to Determine Commercial Potential

NSIAD-99-153R: Published: Jun 30, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on whether space-station-related commercial activities could generate revenue capable of reducing the station's annual cost of operations, which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) estimates will average $1.3 billion, or $13 billion over a 10-year mission life after the space station is fully assembled in 2004.

GAO noted that: (1) on the basis of available information such as commercialization proposals and opinion surveys, GAO concluded that many businesses are skeptical of the station's commercial usefulness; (2) however, commercial interest in the station may increase as the station's assembly nears completion and its capabilities grow; (3) NASA is developing an independently conducted market study of potential commercial interest in the station, as required by the Commercial Space Act, and is implementing a commercial development plan for the station; (4) when NASA completes these tasks, it should be in a better position to understand how businesses perceive the station's commercial potential; (5) until then, NASA will be unable to estimate whether commercial activity would eventually reduce the space station's cost of operations; (6) NASA has not yet decided whether to pay to develop a x-ray crystallography facility primarily intended for commercial use aboard the space station; (7) drug design companies have not agreed to pay for this facility, although some firms said they could use it if its in-orbit capabilities were sufficiently well demonstrated; and (8) other firms remained skeptical of the facility's commercial usefulness compared with the usefulness of competing ground-based facilities.

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