Commercial activity on the International Space Station, as well as companies constructing their space stations, may confront a new opponent in China’s future space station. Nanoracks CEO Jeff Manber stated his firm has recently lost customers to China as well as its space station during a demonstration at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference on August 4. He added, “I lost a client, my first customer, traveling to the Chinese space station.” “Right now, we’re in a competition.”

He didn’t say who the customer was or what they were planning. Nanoracks is currently operating on the International Space Station (ISS), holding tests and external payloads as well as using the station as a launch platform for small satellites. Chinese officials have stated that they are willing to work with other countries on the station’s use. In June, Ji Qiming, the China Manned Space Agency’s assistant director, informed China Daily that the agency had chosen nine scientific ventures from 17 nations to fly on the station and engaged with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to identify others. It’s also possible that astronauts from other nations will be flown to the station.

That, according to Manber, serves as a reminder of the need for US leadership in attracting international ISS users. “There might also be no doubt that these are critical methods for us to maintain that not only the soft leadership but also how we educate and how capital streams,” he added. “If we don’t, others will be able to step in and take over leadership.”

Nanoracks is a key commercial client of the ISS, although it is also planning to move to commercial platforms in the future. Marshall Smith, a veteran NASA official, was named senior vice president for the commercial space stations on Aug. 2 and will be in charge of programs such as converting launch vehicle upper stages into the commercial platforms.

“At the same time as we double down on the ISS, we’re starting to look at a new age of the commercial space stations,” he stated. “We need to start thinking about what will happen when the ISS retires at the close of this decade.” Bishop, the commercial airlock module which Nanoracks constructed and put on the ISS last December, enabling the firm to deploy more satellites as well as install external payloads, is part of that “doubling down” on ISS. However, he cautioned that NASA might be focused too much on new hardware in its efforts to promote commercialization activities.

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