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Private spaceflight companies plan to capitalize on the ISS

This image shows the International Space Station surrounded by space.
The International Space Station. Photo: NASA

Private spaceflight companies already have big plans to capitalize on NASA opening up the International Space Station to commercial space ventures in the coming years.

Why it matters: The agency hopes by the time the station runs its course, NASA astronauts will be able to fly to privately-managed space stations in orbit instead of a government-run outpost, freeing up NASA to focus more resources on the Moon and Mars.

Driving the news: The most confident public show of support so far comes from Bigelow Space Operations, which announced plans to fly space tourists to the ISS aboard a crewed SpaceX Dragon for $52 million per seat. Private astronauts would stay aboard the station for one to two months, according to the company.

  • Bigelow already flew an inflatable module to the ISS in 2016, and the company has plans to build private stations in orbit as well.

Details: Other companies are also interested in taking NASA up on its offer to open up low-Earth orbit to commercial interests.

  • Space Adventures — which sent space tourists to the ISS in the past — praised NASA's announcement, saying they're "able to arrange flights to the ISS on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, or on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner," in a statement.
  • Other companies like NanoRacks, a long-time NASA partner on the space station, are taking a more "wait and see" approach, to decide what kind of commercial involvement makes sense in the future.
  • Axiom Space — a company focused on flying to the ISS now and building a space station of their own in the future — says the company already plans to fly to the station in 2020.

But, but, but: Even Bigelow acknowledges the challenges presented by this kind of project. SpaceX's Crew Dragon, for example, hasn't yet flown its first astronauts to the ISS for NASA, and it's unclear exactly when that might happen.

Go deeper: NASA opens ISS to private astronauts, more space companies