How close is commercial to providing an "ISS replacement"?

Closer than we were when COTS started
38 (43.7%)
About where we were when COTS was started
27 (31%)
Further away than we were when COTS started
22 (25.3%)

Total Members Voted: 87

Voting closed: 03/01/2018 03:34 PM

Author Topic: POLL: How close is commercial to providing an "ISS replacement"?  (Read 4778 times)

Offline Coastal Ron

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I reordered your post:
I understand that the true market size has not been clearly determined for either of these, but isn't it a bit hyperbolic to say that there are no credible ways to monetize a space station without relying primarily on government funding?

Stating that there aren't any funding streams today for a commercial station is not hyperbolic. It's a fact. But that does not mean there never can be.

I feel like I might be missing something here. As far as I can tell, there are at least two potential revenue streams for a commercial space station: the often over-promised, but demonstrably real, tourism market, and ZBLAN optical fiber manufacturing—the first test of which was sent to the ISS last month.

Any guesses as to how much each of those represent? $100M/year? $500M/year? $1B/year?

It is assumed that a commercial station perceived to be an "ISS replacement" would be able to be built and made operational for far less than what it would cost NASA to build an ISS replacement, but we don't know what that number is. We need to get a better handle on what the costs will be and what the revenue can be so that we can have a better idea if a commercial station is viable today.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline JH

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I ordered my post as I intended, but if you like it better reversed, that's fine.

As for market size, it's obviously hard to say, but tourists to the ISS paid $20 to $40 million a pop, and I'd be completely shocked if SpaceX is charging less that $150 million for their two person moon shot. I seem to recall Shotwell saying that after their announcement, they have received more interest from prospective follow-on customers than they were anticipating, which suggests that there is some depth to the market, even for super high-end space tourism.

For ZBLAN, this manuscript from last year came to the conclusion that the potential market for optical fibers that can be manufactured to a higher quality (theoretically, for the moment) in microgravity is in the billions of dollars per year:


According to the paper, the low end for comparable (but expected to be inferior) terrestrially manufactured fiber is $150/m or $450,000/kg. In other words, if microgravity does allow for better manufacturing as predicted, there is already a market that will support the costs of space-based manufacturing.

None of this is to say that I think there will necessarily be a commercial space station 7 years from now (Bigelow glosses over ECLSS in their presentations to an extent that makes me seriously doubt that they have a grip on how hard of a problem it really is, and other potential operators seem more slow moving) but I think there could be sufficient demand for one in less time than that.

« Last Edit: 01/31/2018 05:48 AM by JH »

Offline Joseph Peterson

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My opinion is that we are closer from a technical standpoint.  The industrial base exists that several potential partnerships could build an ISS replacement in less than seven years.  All that is needed is the financial motivation for the usual suspects to get started.

From an economic standpoint we are further away.  COTS launch vehicles could target other segments of the launch market.  The only current market for commercial stations is research.  Manufacturing and tourism are poised to improve the outlook over the next decade, but are not here yet.  Without a well funded NASA commercial station program, I'm afraid commercial stations are at least a decade out, further if there is no orbital research platform.
If ZBLAN can't pay for commercial stations, we'll just have to keep looking until we find other products that can combine to support humans earning a living in space.

Online QuantumG

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I hear those things are awfully loud. It glides as softly as a cloud. What's it called? Monowhale!

Offline mikelepage


The arrangement of two BA330s on that page seems relatively specific. Now that FH is flight proven they can hopefully move forward more quickly. If ISS can support 6 astronauts long term (for $100B in construction costs) can the 2x BA330 arrangement replace ISS and support 12 astronauts for what? Under $1B?