The Trump administration might be preparing to end NASA’s involvement in the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025, much earlier than many had hoped.
That revelation came from The Verge, who spoke to “two people familiar with the matter”. Specifically, they saw a dwarf budget proposal for NASA’s 2019 fiscal year budget, expected to be announced on February 12.
In the budget proposal, it's understood there will be a proposal to end support for the ISS, which NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion a year on. Under Obama, NASA’s involvement in the ISS was extended until 2024.
The ISS is thought to be capable of running until at least 2028, when its infrastructure – by then almost three decades old – will be beyond use.
“It is inevitable – it’s a human-made structure with a lifetime,” Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator under Obama, said in 2016.
But while 2028 looms on the horizon, many had hoped that the ISS could continue to be a bastion of cooperation until at least then. There has also been discussion about private companies taking over running the station in part, to ease the financial burden. 2025, however, may be too soon for that to happen.
One of those companies interested in playing a part is US company Bigelow Aerospace, which currently has an inflatable module attached to the ISS. In a statement from their founder Robert Bigelow, they said they were “ready and willing” to be part of any discussion going forwards.
“It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game,” Bigelow said. “ISS operations should continue provided there are aggressive initiatives to use commercial platforms for human space operations in parallel with the continued use of the ISS.”
Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat for Florida, meanwhile, said that the Trump administration would have a “fight on their hands” if they pushed ahead with this plan. “This would likely decimate [Florida’s] commercial space industry and hinder our ability to experiment in low-Earth orbit,” he said.
The main concern, however, is that ending the ISS early could leave the US with a human space exploration gap. With no destination for astronauts to visit, and only tentative plans to go to the Moon at the moment (which are unlikely to be ready by 2025), it would be yet another recent hiatus in spaceflight.
It’s taken seven years since the Shuttle retired in 2011 to get two companies, Boeing and SpaceX, almost ready to start launching astronauts. The US has had to rely on Russian Soyuz launches for the time being. If the ISS is discontinued in 2025 then it doesn’t leave much time to develop its successor, be that a space station around the Moon, lunar landings, or missions to Mars.