The funding for the International Space Station (ISS) might come from the private sector after 2024, according to an internal NASA document seen by the Washington Post. The document details the budget request that the Trump administration has put forward for the space agency.
“The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time – it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” the document states, according to the Washington Post. “NASA will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit.”
The ISS is a joint partnership with four other space agencies, the Russian, Japanese, Canadian, and European space agencies. It is divided into two segments – American and Russian – both of which have funding for operations until 2024. Any privatization plans will have to be agreed among the other agencies, so it might be complex to achieve. Russia has also previously considered separating the Russian Orbital Segment and using it to build a new Russian Space Station, but this also depends on the future funding available to NASA’s counterpart.
The Washington Post reports that the document has very few details on how the ISS could become this “commercial platform” and the administration expects private industries to draft plans and market analysis on what they could be doing on board the ISS. Private companies such as Boeing, SpaceX, and Orbital ATK already have a partnership with NASA to supply cargo to the ISS and in the near future fly astronauts there.
The private sector doesn’t seem thrilled at this idea. Mark Mulqueen, Boeing’s space station program manager, stated: "handing over a rare national asset to commercial enterprises before the private sector is ready to support it could have disastrous consequences for American leadership in space and for the chances of building space-focused private enterprise."
This plan is likely to encounter opposition in the Capitol as well. And it wouldn’t just be a democratic battle. Many on both sides of the aisle feel that this move is against American interests.
“As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can do is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead,” Senator Ted Cruz said while discussing the future of the ISS.
The ISS commercialization plan is part of the NASA budget, which will be announced today.
[H/T: Washington Post]