The Canadarm2 or space station robotic arm extends out from the International Space Station. (NASA Photo)

WASHINGTON—A NASA panel reiterated last week’s official cooperative agreement notice that the International Space Station National Laboratory will soon be opened up to non-government actors like universities and non-profit organizations.

Innovation and research taking place in outer space will no longer only be in the hands of the government, but also by public and private actors.

This diversification of ideas is imperative in furthering science and for the future said Mark Uhran, assistant associate administrator for the International Space Station (ISS).

In its inception, the ISS was built with the vision that it would function as an open laboratory for research and development. It just so happens to be orbiting about 240 miles above Earth’s surface.

“This vision was that when we were building a space station that was not solely for NASA use, but for uses by the nation…[in our vision] nonprofits will work with private firms and universities to meet their very own visions,” Urhan said.

This month’s agreement release is a result of President Barack’s Obama signing of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which prompted NASA to establish the organization to manage research of the organizations other than NASA using the U.S. National Lab on the ISS.

Currently, the United States has rights to about 70 percent of the ISS laboratory space, sharing the rest of the facilities with the European Space Agency, Russia’s Roscosmos, Japan’s JAXA and the Canadian Space Agency.

The cooperative agreement will allot up to 50 percent of the United State’s laboratory space and resources to the winners of the bid proposals. Proposals will be submitted this spring and the winners will be announced this summer. In addition to winning research capabilities in space, cost of transportation of research cargo and maintenance of the U.S. lab space will be covered by the government, Urhan said.

The most restrictive factor for these potential projects is the reliance on physical man-hours. Proposals are encouraged to minimize the amount of crew-time—astronauts—as much as possible. Up to a couple thousand crew-hours are available for research and they divided on need-based criteria.

Proposals should address “three fundamental things—how well they stimulate interest, the development of the ISS National Lab—how well does one pair research and funding—and the day-to-day operations,” said Jason Crusan, chief technologist for space operations.

While private contractors are expected to submit proposals, Crusan emphasized that the legislation funding the projects specifies the use of the ISS primarily be for non-profit organizations and universities.