The international government effort to come up with a cis-lunar ISS


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The competition heats up: In the past five years the various international partners and their space agencies have been conducting studies for developing a new international space station, this time based not in Earth orbit but located near the Moon.

Following initial approval in the fall of 2014, the five space agencies formed the ISS Exploration Capabilities Study Team, IECST, which was tasked with reviewing how the ISS experience could be used to build the cis-lunar infrastructure, with determining its possible architecture and with drafting its flight plan and possible mission. Specialists also had the task of looking at all the necessary technologies, logistics and maintenance which would be required for building and operating a small habitat near the Moon. This man-tended outpost could serve as a way station to the lunar surface and as a springboard for the exploration of the Solar System, including asteroids, Mars and its moons. In fact, the outpost itself could eventually embark on a journey toward a deep-space destination. Representatives of the various space agencies also tried to see what contributions each country could make, based on their technical capabilities and realistic budgets.

All the work was conducted within the ISS program and covered by its budget.

Initially, the IECST group included representatives from space agencies only, for the exception of Russia, with Roskosmos officials needed help from the nation’s prime contractor in human space flight — RKK Energia. For the final few meetings in 2016, ESA also brought representatives from the European space industry. However NASA did not directly involve its key human space flight contractors into the IECST activities. (Instead, the US aerospace companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin continued parallel studies in cooperation with RKK Energia in Russia, EADS Astrium in Europe and Mitsubishi in Japan.) [emphasis mine]

Read the whole article. Lots of interesting details.

In a sense, this international effort is a political lobbying effort by these space agencies to come up with a single project to follow ISS that will continue the funneling of government money to them all. It is also an effort by them to structure future space exploration so all efforts will be contained within this single program, rather than allowing for many different competing efforts, both private and public. In addition, it is an attempt by NASA to come up with some long-term mission for SLS/Orion, which at present has no operational purpose and no funding beyond its first manned flight in 2021.

Finally, note the highlighted sentence above. This effort — which will benefit not just NASA but the space agencies of Russia, Europe, and Japan as well as the old big space companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Mitsubishi — is been paid entirely by American tax dollars. Something about this to me seems wrong. Shouldn’t the cost here be shared? And doesn’t it seem inappropriate for NASA to be picking the companies it wants to work with, without open bidding?

5 comments

  • Orion314

    The POTUS might have something to say about this.

  • Tom Billings

    POTUS might well. But what he says may not please us entirely. Trump is looking for deals, not the usual knock-down-drag-out battles the Democrats want to fill the next 4 years with. We may well see this for what it is, the last stand of the “only governments can do space right” crowd. Trump may see it as a deal he can get that will show results before November 2020.

    It would be far better to have a double BA-330 station at either EML-1, or in LLO, or both, but that may not be the deal that costs Trump the least in Congress. He does *not* have infinite power, nor infinite political capital, inside the US government, especially when the bureaucracy is holding “civil disobedience” courses to frustrate his policies.

  • ken anthony

    Trump may be our last chance to get govt under control. There is no way Trump is going to miss the point that others are not paying. The dems (Domestic Enemies of aMerica) are going to be relentless so Trump must be as well. They need to be rooted out of our govt. and destroyed. They are cancer.

    Space can be fully commercialized if we simply believe in ownership and capitalism. America is great because people were willing to risk there homes with loans to start businesses. That works everywhere including space… or more precisely, let the land assets in space pay for development by letting people own it and borrow against it as homeowners do.

    Government will never do the right thing without graft. The people have to not be sheep and assert their natural rights.

  • wodun

    We should let ESA have their little lunar village, with an American presence as well. But we should have American companies build and operate cislunar stations.

    A lunar village made up of governments, doing the bidding of governments would be fine, but a space station should be a place of commerce where people get to decide what they want to do.

    Besides, ESA can barely afford what they are doing now. They wont be able to do a cislunar space station and a lunar village much less missions to other planets.

  • Edward

    ken anthony wrote: “Space can be fully commercialized if we simply believe in ownership and capitalism.

    Don’t forget free markets. If government tries to control the market, then bad things could happen.

    Last night I was at a model railroad, and one of the kids asked about whether there really was a time when gas stations didn’t sell snacks. In answering the question of why they started having mini convenience stores, I was reminded that it was from the 1970s when price controls on gas prices were in place. The gas stations found that they could not make money on the sales of gas, so they added mini stores to make up for the losses.

    If government does similar over-regulation in space, space companies may not be able to make up for losses by adding the equivalent of a mini-mart to their satellites.

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