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European nations struggle with the new private commercial space station concept

The European partners that have been doing research and work on ISS are now struggling to figure out their future on the multiple new private commercial space stations American private enterprise is now building to replace ISS.

The ISS today relies extensively on barter arrangements among participating agencies, providing services to cover their share of operations of the station. Such arrangements are unlikely to work for commercial stations, however. “We need to find a new way of cooperating,” said Nicolas Maubert, space counselor at the French Embassy in the U.S. and representative of the French space agency CNES in the U.S., citing the challenges of extending current barter arrangements to commercial stations. “We need to put on the table every option.”

The simplest approach — direct payments from space agencies to the companies operating commercial stations — could face political obstacles. “The taxpayers in Europe don’t want to pay directly to private American companies,” he said. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words illustrate the fundamental problem. Europe on ISS has been for decades like a welfare queen. It has gotten access to space mostly free, since what it has offered in exchange for that access has never come close to matching what its work on ISS cost American taxpayers. Now that it will have to pay for that access in real dollars, some of its member nations are balking.

France for example still wants a free ride. Maubert suggested that Europe build its own space station, which means France wants its other ESA partners to help pay for the station that France wants to use.

I say, too bad. The costs on the private stations — built for profit and efficiency — will be far less that ISS. That cost will also be far far less than anything Europe might spend trying to build its own government station. Europe should bite the bullet and pay up. It won’t regret it.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


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  • Ray Van Dune

    I don’t see what Europe gains from having the occasional astronaut on the ISS or its successors. Did Italy gain anything tangible from the Italian woman they recently had on the Crew 4 mission, other than several years of her giving inspirational presentations to high school students? She gained the experience of a lifetime to be sure, but as a national investment it doesn’t make much of a dent.

    But Europe could decide to focus on one aspect of space exploration – say, space-borne medical equipment- and pay someone else for the infrastructure required to develop and deploy it in space. For example, pay SpaceX for a barebones starship SLSS, and a long-term contract to rotate crews to it. Then use European expertise and resources to build it out to a world class medical equipment development facility. Again just a hypothetical example.

  • David Eastman

    While Europe doesn’t want to pay what being a real space power costs, Robert misses the even more key part of that sentence he highlighted: “directly to private American companies.” They simply cannot abide free enterprise, nor, for all their declamations about American jingoistic nationalism, have they moved past it themselves. They just talk and preen, and then lock their markets and refuse to send even a penny overseas our way without screeching about it.

  • David Eastman: You are of course correct. The greatest irony is that European culture was central to the establishment of western civilization, of which the United States was its ultimate achievement. They are now so divorced from their cultural history that they are not even aware of how divorced from that history they are.

  • cloudy

    The European taxpayers are thinking rationally. Pubic funding for manned space exploration is for jobs and national pride. Period. There is currently no scientific payoff that justifies the cost. Economic payoffs are best pursued by private businesses. If a company from another nation with another nation’s workers, there is no purpose. The other nation will get the credit and the jobs, so why pay them to do it?

    This may change in the future as private enterprise makes manned space exploration cheaper. However, for now, it is the harsh reality.

  • Edward

    David Eastman wrote: “Europe doesn’t want to pay what being a real space power costs, Robert misses the even more key part of that sentence he highlighted: ‘directly to private American companies.’ They simply cannot abide free enterprise, nor, for all their declamations about American jingoistic nationalism, have they moved past it themselves.

    It is worse than that. These are national space agencies trying to stay in the game, but these countries have companies, universities, and individuals who could benefit from their own use of commercial space stations. Commercial space stations can come without the burdens placed on them by national space programs, such as NASA’s requirement that data collected on the ISS become public domain five years later. Such a requirement gives a company a very short time to benefit from the large amount of money it spends to do its research, discouraging the research in the first place.

    From the article:

    Another option is for companies in other countries to be part of the U.S.-led ventures developing commercial stations.

    It seems to me that these European governments just want to retain control over what happens in space rather than let their own people and companies figure out the best uses of space. Why should European companies have to be partners with the American space station companies? And why should European taxpayers not want to pay for services rendered? Do they really think that everything should be free, or are they well aware that the U.S. taxpayer has been subsidizing them for all these decades and they don’t want the benefit to stop?

    I certainly hope that Luxembourg is still encouraging industrial use of space.

    Recent news suggests so:

  • Edward: It seems to me that these European governments just want to retain control over what happens in space

    To rule in Hell*, rather than serve in the heavens?

    * of their own making …

  • pzatchok

    USA envy.

    They have to ask themselves first though.
    Do they want the US with the EU to be the biggest and best in space or China with the EU?

    Or do they just plan on dropping out of everything off planet?

  • David K

    Europe wants to have a nationalized space industry, while the US has decided to set its free. Guess which one is doing better?

  • Ian C.

    Usually I don’t defend European governments and their corporate partners, but here I think the tone of Bob’s article and of the commenters is too negative. I wouldn’t overestimate the “no European tax money for private American companies” statement too much; it came from one functionary. European governments frequently purchase from American companies. Since they want to maintain expertise in human spaceflight, they will purchase slots on private stations. The issue for European companies (that so far built as suppliers some components for the ISS and spacecraft and are now threatened with losing that opportunity and expertise) is more serious. Building their own station is unrealistic. So they need partnerships with American companies, which have no (political) obligation to accept them. They have to figure out how to manage the transition to private providers. That’s all.

    Regarding the “welfare queen” sentiment here, it was in the American interest to keep the Europeans close, i.e. provide incentives to not do too much with the Russians, perhaps the Chinese, and others. And most of Europe is an American protectorate and playground anyway, so you paid for it, be it military protection or space stuff. Whether that continues and in what form is still unclear, let’s see what happens.

  • Jeff Wright

    They want their own capability…I won’t fault them for that.

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