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The Trump administration is reportedly moving to privatize the International Space Station

The Trump government is planning to privatize the international space station rather than only decommissioning the orbiting international experimentation in 2024, according to a report in   The Washington Post.  

According to a document obtained by the Post, the current government is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private sector rather than de-orbiting it as NASA “will expand international and commercial ventures during the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit. ”

The Post also reported that the government was seeking to request $150 million in financial year 2019 “to enable the growth and maturation of commercial entities and capacities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS — possibly including elements of the ISS — are operational when they are needed. ”

The U.S. government has spent roughly $100 billion to develop and run the space station as part of an international coalition which also includes the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Russian Space Agency.

Astronaut Cady Coleman looking out window of the International Space Station / Picture courtesy

However, as one NASA engineer noted in a Quora article describing the NASA decision to decommission the Space Station, the bureau only lacks the tools to do all it would like to do.

Robert Frost, Daily Operations Branch at NASA and an engineer at the Vehicle Integration, wrote:

“… unfortunately there simply isn’t sufficient funds for space exploration to simultaneously operate multiple large apps.   The Space Shuttle program was crucial to constructing the ISS, but once ISS was constructed, the Space Shuttle program had to be decommissioned before the next program (Constellation) may start.

NASA’s primary job is to continue pushing the frontier outwards.   The idea is that NASA has mastered low Earth orbit enough that the lessons we’ve learned will make it feasible for business organizations to run in low Earth orbit and NASA should then proceed to the next frontier.   Whether that be to establish a permanent foothold on the Moon, to see and possibly recover an asteroid, or to put human beings on Mars (all of which are chances) is something potential political leaders will determine, but one thing would be fairly assured — NASA won’t be given more funds to do this things.   That means NASA has to stop doing something it is currently doing. ”

A public private partnership is the most likely way to make certain the space station remains aloft, instead of burning in orbit and having its staying pieces fall to a watery grave.

Some organizations are already pursuing the vision of a community of independently held space stations operating in low earth orbit and beyond.

Axiom Space,  which is helmed by Michael T. Suffredini — a former NASA employee who handled operations for the ISS for a decade — has increased $3 million in seed financing to build a commercial space station. And Bigelow Space, the firm founded by the eccentric Las Vegas billionaire, Robert Bigelow, is working on constructing new structures which could increase living and working space on the ISS.  

While some question if the operation of a space station is commercially viable, the fact that something would need to be done with the space station once the NASA shuttle program was decommissioned was a foregone conclusion.

And what to do about the Space Station has obviously been around astronaut’s thoughts. Last week at an editorial  The New York Times, Mark Kelly cautioned for continued support for the Space Station.

“SpaceX, 2 firms and Orbital ATK, now deliver cargo. Only this week, SpaceX established the Falcon 9 Heavy, a rocket powerful enough to lift 141,000-pound payloads. And after a couple of years’ hiatus, team members will once again leave American soil to space and make their way to the space station as soon as next season, courtesy of Boeing and SpaceX.

But all this can come to a screeching halt (although you won’t hear the “screech” at the vacuum of space) if the Trump government ends funds to the International Space Station program beyond 2024, a measure  it is   contemplating. The motives are unclear, though President Trump has stated that he would like to prioritize human traveling to the moon.

Whatever the priorities, this sort of trade-off is shortsighted. Cutting funds for the channel, now between $3 billion and $4 billion annually, are a step backward for the space agency and surely not in the best interest of the country.

Over the last year, the United States abandoned its leadership position on the worldwide stage in lots of ways. We stopped directing the effort to fight climate change. We stopped leading to commerce and commerce, and raised questions regarding our continued dedication to multilateral organizations and military alliances. We stopped leading on individual rights and the rule of law. If we fail to continue financing the International Space Station, then America will sacrifice its position as the international leader in space exploration and business space innovation.

NASA applications have benefited the people of the world since the founding of the agency in 1958. Solar technologies, miniaturized computer chips, CT scans and M.R.I.s are simply a couple of examples of the technology which were created and delivered to the American consumer as a result of NASA’therefore innovation.

However, hashing out the details of how to commercialize a job which was created with international cooperation will be hard and demand discussions with parties which have seen their relationships chill substantially within recent years (at least in the event of the U.S. and Russia).

Since the U.S. government ponders its withdrawal from low earth orbit there’s at least one country awaiting in the wings to secure more of a leadership position in space.

The Chinese government has been spending billions on a space plan that’s surging onto the aerospace scene and it’s certainly considering taking a more active part in the development of space.

Since Kelly warns, “[other] nations will definitely fill the void left by American withdrawal — most notably China and Russia, states we consider significant competitions. Not only would they benefit from the political and economic advantages of leading in space but they could alter the management of the planet’s collective space endeavors in a way inimical to American values and interests. ”

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