International Space Station could be privatized under Trump administration plan

15 February, 2018, 07:09 | Author: Yolanda Murray
  • Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan

The goal of that effort would be to have commercial facilities in operation by the time NASA funding for the ISS ends in 2025, with NASA potentially being a customer of those facilities to support its research needs, such as for exploration beyond Earth orbit.

The budget will focus NASA on the exploration missions and reinforce the value of the United States in their knowledge and discoveries while deepening partnerships internationally. The budget proposal calls for $10 billion to "support human space exploration and to pursue a campaign that would establish US preeminence to, around, and on the Moon".

Almost half of the proposed $19.9 billion budget - $10.5 billion - is earmarked for "an innovative and sustainable campaign of exploration and lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilisation followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations", according to a NASA overview. Last week, the administration made a decision to ask for another $300 million, bringing the total to $19.9 billion, NASA chief financial officer Andrew Hunter said.

As part of a congressionally-mandated ISS transition plan yet to be released, NASA examined several options for the station's future, according to that document.

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But it's not clear how much NASA would do after 2025. "We have a lot of work to do". "So the investment made in that and the development activities made in that, unless something happens relativity quickly in the commercial market to offset that in low-earth orbit could be an impact", Frank Slazer, vice president of space systems at the Aerospace Industries Association, told FOX Business, regarding the impact privatization could have on Boeing and SpaceX.

The proposal doesn't say what companies would take over or what private enterprise might want to do with the station. So the White House's proposal is more a statement of priorities - and not everyone is happy with it.

MIT astronautics professor Dava Newman, who was the deputy NASA chief under Barack Obama, called the space station "the cornerstone of space exploration today" but said the Trump administration's proposal makes sense because it is doing long-term planning.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which represents companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, was open to the proposal, but said defunding the station before 2028 "would not allow sufficient time" for a private-sector transition. But he's said he not convinced the industry could bear the financial burden of maintaining the space station by the mid-2020s. NASA is in charge of US science and technology that has to do with airplanes or space.

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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".

"It's a hard issue", Wörner said, however a partly privatized space station would "not be the end of the world". If the ISS was no longer a government concern, that money could be allocated elsewhere - perhaps, even, to other off-world ventures. Drug companies like Merck and Eli Lilly have used the space station to research medications.

The NASA document notes that the station's global partners are each at a different state in planning for operations of the ISS beyond 2024.

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