Trump budget proposal to end funding for ISS, several NASA missions

Herbert Rhodes
February 15, 2018

The Washington Post reported a financial budget, set to be released on Monday, will ask for $150 million in fiscal year 2019, as well as additional funding in the following years, in order to develop "commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS - potentially including elements of the ISS - are operational when they are needed".

The good part of the plan is that NASA would set aside $200 million for rides on commercial landers to the lunar surface.

According to The Washington Post, the US government is hoping to make the Space Station a sort of real estate venture ran by private organizations. The U.S. has contributed about $100 billion to the station over this time.

The American lab on board the ISS - called the U.S. National Laboratory - already conducts experiments partly paid for by private industry, but those experiments could get much more expensive if federal funding is cut off. SpaceX and Orbital ATK have been making deliveries since 2012, and Sierra Nevada Corp. will begin making shipments with its crew-less mini shuttles in a few years.

A three-tonne supply of food, fuel and supplies was just launched for the three Americans, two Russians and one Japanese astronaut now residing in the ISS.

But key US legislators and space experts are expressing concern about the plan. With the USA cutting its support for the station, it would most likely rely on public-private partnerships, with bulk of the station's upkeep being shouldered by private companies.

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The same budget proposal proposes to pull the plug on WFIRST, a space telescope mission that NASA said is "designed to settle essential questions in the areas of dark energy, exoplanets, and infrared astrophysics". Last year, Russian Federation revealed plans to build a luxury hotel on the station - however, the Trump administration's decision to cut funding in 2024 would make it impossible for the hotel to turn a profit sooner than that. President Barack Obama extended that model to hire Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts there. No company would accept the liabilities and risks associated with the station, he said, if the sprawling complex went out of control and came crashing down.

Frank Slazer, the vice president of space systems for the Aerospace Industries Association, said the plan also could prove sticky with the station's worldwide partners.

Overall, NASA would receive a slight top-line funding increase next year, from $19.5 billion to $19.9 billion.

Now, the Trump administration wants to push that public-private partnership even further to encourage "the emergence of an environment in (low-Earth orbit) where NASA is one of many customers of a non-governmental human space flight managed and operated enterprise, while providing a smooth and uninterrupted transition", the document said.

"In short, we are once again on a path to return to the moon with an eye toward Mars", said Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator.

NASA in 2022 hopes to launch the first portion of a small station to be placed in orbit around the moon. The mission's estimated cost is somewhere between $3.2 and $3.9 billion.

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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