Thursday, 22 February, 2018

International Space Station could be privatized under Trump administration plan

Source CNN Source CNN
Lillian Steele | 15 February, 2018, 07:09

The report came ahead of the White House's budget proposal for next fiscal year, expected to be released Monday, which the Post said includes a funding request aimed at ensuring that "commercial successors to the ISS" are operational.

Next up for the Russians is the return of three station crew members aboard the Soyuz MS-06/52S spacecraft February 27, bringing outgoing station commander Alexander Misurkin and two NASA astronauts, Mark Vande Hei and Joseph Acaba, back to a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan to close out a 166-day stay in space.

Democrat senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who was once an astronaut himself, said "turning off the lights and walking away from our sole outpost in space" made no sense. The U.S. now pays between $3 billion and $4 billion per year to operate the ISS, and since 1993, has spent about $87 billion to build and operate the space lab.

NASA has supported the ISS for more than two decades and contributes between $3 billion and $4 billion to the project yearly.

The president proposes shifting large chunks of money from the space station, satellites studying a warming Earth and a major space telescope toward a multi-year $10.4 billion exploration plan aimed at returning astronauts to the moon in about five or six years.

"The ISS is built for science and human exploration, it's not built for profit seeking", said Andrew Rush, the chief executive of Made In Space, a company that uses 3-D printing to manufacture objects on the space station.

NASA budget proposal plans of NASA funding of ISS, seeks commercial transition

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. Shown here: an artist's depiction of NASA's Deep Space Gateway in orbit near the moon.

He said the move would put the US on course to "do something exciting" in space for the first time in years, adding that his company is "ready" to partner with NASA on its moon efforts.

The Trump administration wants to invest roughly $150 million next year as a start to helping ready private industry to assume responsibility for activity in low Earth orbit.

A complete transfer to the commercial sector is a different matter, however. The US government has also proposed a $150m (£108m) for ISS to encourage commercial deployment at the space station.

The space station is a joint effort between several space agencies from around the world.

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And SpaceX and Boeing are each developing spacecrafts to send astronauts to and from the space station. The Trump administration instead envisions "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 the enterprise while providing a smooth and uninterrupted transition". A test launch of this system would remain on track for 2020, with a first crewed launch around the moon three years later, according to budget details. But NASA's acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, calls the 2019 budget proposal of Trump as a "pretty exciting time" for the space agency.

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