HOUSTON — The enormous water tank that until recently was used to prepare shuttle astronauts for the spacewalking assembly of the International Space Station will reopen its doors in December to provide offshore oil and gas workers with water survival training.

The Sonny Carter Training Facility Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a 6.2-million gal. pool located near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, has been operated by Raytheon Technical Services Co., of Dulles, Va., since 2003.

Under a first-of-its-kind agreement announced by the space agency on Nov. 15, Raytheon will partner with Petrofac Training Services of Houston to use the 202-ft.-long, 102-ft.-wide pool for the survival training of offshore workers from the energy industry.

The shared-use strategy is intended to offset the cost of operations and staffing as NASA’s use of the NBL tails off in the post-shuttle era, according to agency spokesman Kelly Humphries.

In 2010, NASA re-selected Raytheon to manage and operate the facility under the five-year NBL/Space Vehicle Mockup Operations Contract worth a potential $119.9 million. Under the contract terms, NASA permitted Raytheon to use the facility when it is not being used by astronauts.

Much of the Petrofac activities will be focused on helicopter water egress and basic offshore water safety.

The arrangement is the first of what promises to be more agreements between NASA and the private sector for the use of now underutilized facilities at Johnson, Humphries says.

In late October, NASA opened a former shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Boeing Co., through an agreement with Space Florida, a state agency created to encourage commercial space activities. Boeing plans to use the hangar for the development and assembly of the company’s proposed commercial crew transport spacecraft, the CST-100.