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Despite agreements by Russia, Canada, and Japan to extend their ISS partnership with the U.S. through 2024, both France and Germany of the European Space Agency (ESA) are having second thoughts and might pull out in 2020 instead.
In separate statements Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, the heads of the French and German space agencies said a detailed study is under way to assess the future operating cost of the station, and whether the cost can be justified given the pressure on near-term budgets.
Pascale Ehrenfreund, chairman of the board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, which is Germany’s space agency, said DLR would make no promises until after a full review of ISS’s value. “In view of the high cost involved and the resulting implications on budgets of [European Space Agency] member states, we have to evaluate very carefully costs and benefits of a continued participation in the ISS,” Ehrenfreund said in a Jan. 5 statement in response to SpaceNews inquiries. “It’s only based on this evaluation that we will be able to take a definite position.”
Germany has been Europe’s ISS champion — its biggest paymaster and most vocal booster — for more than 20 years and at times has had to strong-arm France into boosting its support under threat of reduced German backing of Europe’s Ariane rocket program, a French priority.
Eventually, all the partners running ISS with the U.S. are going to come to this decision, which means the U.S. government should begin thinking about what it does at that time. I say, when that time comes the government will privatize the station, giving it to the private companies best able to make a profit from it. And by 2024 the U.S. is likely to have a number of companies quite capable of doing so, from SpaceX to Blue Origin to Bigelow.
There also will be no reason to destroy the station at that time. Being modular, much of it is relatively new, and what is old could be replaced with relatively simplicity. This is a national asset that should not be abandoned nonchalantly.