Europe might end its ISS partnership in 2020

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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.


  • wodun

    Dr. Julie Dr. Julie Robinson was a recent guest on the Space Show and briefly talked about the prospects of privatizing the ISS. She said it was unlikely due to the the other partners. And maybe something about its status as a national laboratory. Also, she might have said something about transferring ownership in terms of selling or giving. Think the question was toward the end of the program.

    It does make sense to give companies the opportunity to buy parts of the station if the other option is sending it to a fiery death, or bringing it home as Dr. Julie Robinson delicately put it.

  • Orion314

    OF COURSE, our political creatures will do what’s best for the USA….sigh….

  • mkent

    “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.”

    Not to be blunt, but what makes you think SpaceX, Blue Origin, or Bigelow know anything at all about maintaining and operating the ISS? There’s only one possibility for privatization, and that’s Boeing. They designed and built the bulk of the Station and are neck deep in its operations and maintenance. Heck, *NASA* would be hard-pressed to maintain and operate the ISS without them. The companies you mentioned wouldn’t have a clue.

    Whether or not Boeing would want to remains to be seen.

  • Good point. Boeing would actually be the natural company to take over ISS and run it for profit. The problem is that the company has a very mixed corporate culture. Many sections are very innovative and creative. Many more are mushy and bureaucratic, willing to sit on their hands waiting for the government money to roll in before they do anything. Unfortunately, my sense of Boeing is that the latter dominates, and will likely work against taking over ISS because such a takeover is risky.

  • mkent

    That sums up the situation pretty accurately, I think.

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