United States ISS lab module Destiny during manufacture in fall 1997. Credit: NASA

NASA has chosen the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space Inc., a new Florida-based nonprofit, tax-exempt research management organization, to develop and manage the US portion of the International Space Station that is designated a US national lab, including the development and administration of RFPs. CASIS will be located in the Space Life Sciences Laboratory near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The mission of the ISS NL is to serve as an asset for US companies, institutions and other federal agencies to conduct research in a low-gravity environment. Based on NASA’s stated scope of the agreement, CASIS will be expected to maximize “the value of the ISS to the nation by developing and managing a diversified R&D portfolio based on the US national needs for the basic and applied research and by using the ISS as a venue for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics educational activities.”

According to a NASA spokesman, about 75 percent of the functionality of the ISS is part of the US operated system, which includes the space-based assets of the US, Japan and the European Space Agency. The other 25 percent of ISS functionality is operated by other national interests (Russia, for example).

The ISS NL occupies only a part of the US-operated section of the ISS. The NASA spokesman said it is difficult to say exactly how much because lab space in the ISS is measured by racks, test equipment and payload (i.e,. lab stations attached to the ISS exterior), rather than by the terrestrial standard of square feet. Much of the ISS lab space will continue to be operated and managed as a NASA research facility.

The management contract has an initial value of up to $15 million per year. The NASA spokesman declined to say how many proposals were submitted, nor could he say who the competitors were. However, based on press stories, releases and blogs, Cleveland-based and Houston-based groups are known to have submitted proposals. NASA has a significant presence in both cities: NASA Glenn Research Center near Cleveland, Ohio and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The “Cooperative Agreement Notice,” (similar to an RFP) was issued in mid-February, and proposals were due April 1. According to the CAN document, CASIS-managed experiments should be underway by Oct. 1, 2011, and extend through September 2020. According to the ISS website, the ISS NL was established as part of the 2005 NASA Authorization Act.