Potential end of the ISS raises concerns, presents opportunities

Adjust Comment Print

Two NASA astronauts on Tuesday conducted the first spacewalk of the year while working on a robotic arm.

As of now, the USA government spends about $3bn (£2.1bn) to $4bn a year on the ISS, representing a total investment of over $87bn in the project that has spanned over 20 years now. Still, many in the industry would prefer that NASA fund the ISS through 2028 to provide more time for the shift to commercial ventures, according to the Verge. Although it is a massive investment, costing NASA between $3 and $4 billion each year, it is also a major tool for scientific research. The Office of Management and Budget announced January 24 that the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal will be released no earlier than February 12, one week later than planned due to the aftereffects of the government shutdown from January 20 through 22.

As described by The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets, the White House's draft spending proposal for fiscal year 2019 would call for ending direct funding for space station operations by 2025 and transitioning to commercial provision of spaceflight capabilities in low Earth orbit.

In 2014, the Obama administration extended ISS funding until 2024. If NASA pulls its support for the station, it is unclear how these global partners will respond regarding continued ISS operation.

When the agency was asked about the budget proposal, a representative of NASA reiterated its commitment to the ISS without commenting on the leaked document.

Two other companies, Axiom, and Nanoracks, are planning commercial space stations.

But will these private companies, like SpaceX and Boeing, be ready to take over operations in that part of space without the significant government support provided to the Space Station?

Yet as The Verge noted, ending support too early could lead to "a gap of human activities in lower Earth orbit", with fewer opportunities to train astronauts, test new systems, and carry out research on long-term human survival in space.

So far, the space station partners have committed to keeping the station funded only through 2024, but as Nelson said, the door is still open for an extension to 2028.

"It's one thing to say this is the last space station that will be owned and operated by the federal government", Manber said.

Several companies, including Axiom Space, Bigelow Aerospace and NanoRacks have proposed developing commercial stations, in some cases starting with commercial modules on the ISS.

In the same appearance, he also touched upon the future of the ISS.