According to a blog post on NASA's website, the agency, along with the White House, plans to move ahead with its offer of resources, including the use of a docking port, for companies wanting to add a commercial module to the ISS. NASA had issued a Request for Information earlier this year, with an offer to use the docking port currently used by the BEAM module. Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in their online statement: “As a result of the responses, this fall, NASA will start the process of providing companies with a potential opportunity to add their own modules and other capabilities to the International Space Station.” No other details are known at this time.
According to Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, the agency plans to make one of the ISS ports available to the private sector and had asked for ideas on how the port may be used. The deadline for responses was on August 12, and NASA is currently going through the received replies.
A number of companies have expressed interest in adding a commercial module to the ISS, including Bigelow Aerospace, Axiom Space and Ixion (a consortium of NanoRacks, Space Systems Loral and United Launch Alliance), with the latter having received NASA's NextSTEP award this year. Ixion plans to study the conversion of a Centaur upper stage into a commercial International Space Station module.
According to the latest statement, NASA hopes that the modules will support long-term crewed space exploration plans, including missions to Mars. “For humanity to successfully and sustainably settle the ‘final frontier,’ we will need to take advantage of investment and innovation in both the public and private sectors. Neither will handle this immense challenge on its own.”, said the statement.
The post came at the same time as an essay by US President Barack Obama was published on the CNN website, in which he called for human missions to Mars by the 2030s. The essay largely reiterated current US space policy and called for greater cooperation between government agencies and private companies.