The Trump administration is preparing to end support for the International Space Station program by 2025, according to a draft budget proposal. Without the ISS, American astronauts could be grounded on Earth for years with no destination in space until NASA develops new vehicles for its deep space travel plans.
The International Space Station has been an ongoing program for more than two decades. It costs NASA between $3 to $4 billion each year, and represents a more than $87 billion investment from the US government.
It’s become a major hub for conducting both government and commercial experiments in microgravity, as well as testing out how the human body responds to weightlessness.
NASA pledged to keep the International Space Station program funded through 2024, thanks to an extension made by the Obama administration in 2014. But after that, the station’s fate has been up in the air.
Congress has openly discussed what to do with the ISS after its funding runs out, but has not made a firm decision on a plan. Many in the commercial space industry want NASA to extend the program again through 2028: the year that many consider to be the end of its operational lifetime. That would give NASA time to figure out a way to transition operations of the ISS to the commercial sector full-time or time for companies to establish a commercial module in lower Earth orbit.
However, commercial companies have indicated they may not be ready to do this by 2024.
The NASA Transition Authorization Act that President Trump signed last year directed the space agency to come up with a way to transition the ISS away from mostly NASA funding. The plan was due to Congress by December 1st, 2017, however NASA did not release any public information as to whether or not it had delivered the report.
The US plan, the paper said, involves privatizing the ISS, a low-orbit space station piloted by the US space agency NASA and developed jointly with its Russian counterpart.
The station has allowed international crews — notably in collaboration with the Canadian, European and Japanese space agencies — to pursue scientific research in the environment of a low Earth orbit.
“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,” says an internal NASA document obtained by the Post. “It is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform.”
“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 document says.
To ensure a smooth transition, the White House would ask the private sector to provide market analyses and development plans, according to the report.
The plan is expected to face stiff opposition. The United States has already spent some $100 billion to launch, operate and support the orbital station.
Beginning during the presidency of George W. Bush (2001-2009), NASA has subcontracted certain ISS support operations, starting with the supply flights now carried out by the SpaceX and Orbital ATK companies — a trend that gained speed during the Obama presidency.
It was not clear, however, how private companies might profit from taking over the aging station — its first section was launched in 1998.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
February 12th, 2018