US wants to privatize space station

Marie Harrington
February 15, 2018

The Trump administration is considering turning the International Space Station over to the private sector and ending its federal funding, according to an internal NASA document obtained by the Washington Post.

"The budget proposes to end direct USA financial support for the International Space Station in 2025, after which NASA would rely on commercial partners for its low Earth orbit research and technology demonstration requirements,", which was released on Monday.

But it also includes $150m (£108m) to "encourage commercial development" at ISS to replace American payments.

The potential is there for private companies to capitalize on a chance to control the ISS and the low Earth orbit it resides in.

Bigelow Aerospace, for example, has talked about attaching a huge inflatable module to the space station that could be used by NASA or private industry. "Also, the 2019 budget proposal wants to give $10.5bn for an innovative and sustainable campaign of exploration" which would lead to the return of humans to the moon for long-term exploration as well as utilization followed by human missions to Mars and beyond that, as per a NASA review.

Overall, NASA would receive a slight top-line funding increase next year, from $19.5 billion to $19.9 billion. Last week, the administration chose to ask for another $300 million, bringing the total to $19.9 billion, NASA chief financial officer Andrew Hunter said.

If all goes according to plan, the agency will launch a "power and propulsion space tug", a component of NASA's planned outpost in near-moon space, in 2022.

More: NASA's new guardian of the galaxy? "We have a lot of work to do". Even if it weren't, it's not clear how a privatized space station could operate.

The proposal doesn't say what companies would take over or what private enterprise might want to do with the station. The transition draft says NASA will continue to consult with its global partners "to ensure consensus". So the White House's proposal is more a statement of priorities - and not everyone is happy with it.

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The proposal has stated that given budget constraints and competing priorities at the USA space agency, it is not the administration's priority to develop one more huge space telescope soon after the completion of the James Webb telescope that costs $ 8.8 billion.

A complete transfer to the commercial sector is a different matter, however. But he's said he not convinced the industry could bear the financial burden of maintaining the space station by the mid-2020s.

But key USA legislators and space experts are expressing concern about the plan.

But pulling NASA funding would likely still have an effect on the space station's future.

Congress has directed NASA to study the feasibility of extending space station operations, which cost about $3 billion a year, to 2028 or 2030. NASA pays for launch costs and astronauts' time to run the experiments.

There will be a focus to human space flight and at the core of it all, cutting edge science.

The administration's plan, he said, may be "to find a way in those three years to have the private sector use enough of the station to see whether there's a justification for a post-station LEO (low-Earth orbit) platform that would be commercial". There's only two crew missions a year.

And SpaceX and Boeing are each developing spacecrafts to send astronauts to and from the space station.

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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