The first external commercial research platform developed for the International Space Station under the U.S. National Laboratory umbrella is progressing toward a 2014 liftoff and installation on Japan’s Kibo module exposed facility.

The commercial platform, owned by NanoRacks LLC and developed jointly with Astrium North America, completed an interim design review in September, three months after work was initiated. The platform is headed for a critical design review in April, setting the stage for delivery to the station either aboard a U.S. commercial, Russian, European or Japanese launcher.

“We have one customer already signed and significant interest from a variety of potential customers, from the military, industry, government and academia,” said Richard Pournelle, NanoRacks senior vice president of business development, during an Oct. 18 phone interview. “We are putting our own money into this. Customers can purchase this as a managed service.”

The development partners outlined their efforts this week at the 2012 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, N.M.

The external platform will hold a colony of 10 standard NanoRacks research enclosures, each measuring 40 x 10 x 10 cm and configured for power and data gathering. The enclosures are suited for sensor development, Earth and deep-space observations, and exobiology research, among other uses.

The external platform can also accommodate users requiring more than the standard enclosure volume as well as those needing antennas to transmit or receive communications, Pournelle says.

The cost for a standard 90-day deployment is $1.5 million, plus $40,000 for research requiring a return to Earth, either aboard a SpaceX Dragon or a Russian Soyuz capsule.

Once aboard the space station, the NanoRacks platform will be assembled and deployed from inside Kibo through an experiment airlock. Kibo is equipped with an independent robot arm to position and retrieve external research on and from the Japanese exposed facility, eliminating the need for spacewalks.

Privately owned NanoRacks signed a Space Act Agreement with the ISS National Laboratory arm of NASA’s ISS program in September 2009. The station already supports internal National Laboratory research payloads flown and housed in the company’s NanoLab enclosures.