The Donald Trump administration is working on a transition plan that could turn the International Space Station (ISS) over to the private sector after federal funding for the orbiting laboratory ends in 2025, The Washington Post has reported, citing an internal NASA document.
As per the document, end of direct federal support should not imply that the orbiting laboratory, which is currently contracted to Boeing and costs NASA more than $3 billion every year, itself will be “deorbited” at that time. “It is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” according to the document cited by the Post on Sunday.
“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,” it added. While the transition could help NASA focus its resources on exploring deep space, such a plan could invite objections from many quarters – both domestic and international.
“As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can to is cancel programmes after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead,” Texas senator Ted Cruz was quoted as saying by the Post. What the NASA document does no state is what private companies might do with the space station and which enterprises could show interest to run it.
Moreover, an international partnership of space agencies provides and operates the elements of the ISS, and therefore, the Trump administration’s plant to turn it into a commercially-run venture might face objections from other space agency partners.
“It will be very hard to turn ISS into a truly commercial outpost because of the international agreements that the United States is involved in,” Frank Slazer, Vice President of Space Systems for the Aerospace Industries Association, was quoted as saying.
Last month, Boeing’s space station programme manager Mark Mulqueen warned that “walking away from the International Space Station now would be a mistake, threatening American leadership and hurting the commercial market as well as the scientific community”.