ISS partners okay Trump changes to Gateway


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The various international nations that partner on ISS and wish to partner on NASA’s Gateway project issued a statement this week saying that they approve the changes imposed on that lunar space station by the Trump administration, all of which significantly delay their participation.

In an Aug. 28 statement, members of the station’s Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB), which includes the five space agencies involved in the ISS, said the Gateway is “a critical next step” in human space exploration and that they plan to contribute modules or other elements for the facility in lunar orbit.

“Looking to exploration activities beyond LEO, the MCB members reaffirmed their continued intention to cooperate on a human outpost in the lunar vicinity – Gateway,” the document, a summary of the board’s Aug. 6 meeting, stated. “Within a broader open architecture for human exploration, the MCB acknowledged the Gateway as a critical next step.”

The board offered a similar endorsement of the Gateway at a March 5 meeting. The statement from that meeting included a diagram of one Gateway configuration, with contributions from Canada, Europe, Japan and Russia, as well as the United States, identified.

Three weeks after that meeting, though, Vice President Mike Pence announced at a meeting of the National Space Council that the U.S. would speed up its lunar exploration timeline, seeking to land astronauts on the moon by 2024, rather than prior plans for a 2028 landing. NASA subsequently said that it would initially pursue a minimal Gateway needed for that 2024 landing, deferring full-fledged development of the Gateway for a second phase intended to enable “sustainable” lunar exploration in the second half of the 2020s. [emphasis mine]

The “minimal Gateway” that the Trump administration is presently pursuing is structured to shift focus from a space station in lunar orbit to landing on the Moon. This means that many of the later components of Gateway, to be built or used by these international partners, will be significantly delayed, or even made unnecessary.

So, why did these space agencies all endorse the new plan that circumscribed their participation? They have no choice. Without NASA’s SLS, they have no way to get to the Moon. And without Gateway, SLS has no reason to exist. These government space agencies need SLS (as ephemeral as SLS might be) because it is the only free government launch option available to them. They hope, by endorsing what the Trump administration has done, to convince it to go along with the complete Gateway project, including the continued funding of SLS, thus creating a gigantic international boondoggle (paid for mostly by the U.S.) that will justify all their manned space programs.

This is another reason to dump SLS. Wouldn’t it be better for the U.S. to have its private commercial space launch industry sell its goods to these leeches, rather than have them living off our taxpayers’ dime? We will gain nothing from them with Gateway, as it is presently structured, while they feed off of us. If instead they needed to buy launch services from private rockets, the profits would accrue to U.S. companies and citizens, and help encourage competition and more innovation.

If we instead buy into this international boondoggle, we will spend a lot of money for very little space exploration, even as we make the bureaucrats at six government space agencies (including NASA) very happy.

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2 comments

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “These government space agencies need SLS (as ephemeral as SLS might be) because it is the only free government launch option available to them.

    It may be relatively free — each space agency has to provide something, however small, in order to be part of the partnership — but with the very low launch rate, SLS is hardly useful, making Gateway even less useful.

    Wouldn’t it be better for the U.S. to have its private commercial space launch industry sell its goods to these leeches, rather than have them living off our taxpayers’ dime?

    In order to get anything useful done, these space agencies already will have to purchase services from the private commercial space launch industry, and maybe even the private commercial space habitat industry. These space agencies will have to join other governments, companies, universities, organizations, and individuals (e.g. Yusaku Maezawa) to purchase space services from commercial space companies in order to get anything done in a timely manner. Otherwise, they will find themselves left behind when companies or organizations start to land people on the Moon and on Mars.

    In the 1990s, Americans grew weary of waiting for governments to do anything worthwhile in space, so they started forming their own companies in order to do so. The philosophy was to reduce costs by operating rockets and spacecraft like the airlines operate airplanes. The desire for reduced cost in space access and operations has not gone away but has increased, which is why Bigelow, Blue Origin, and SpaceX are such popular companies. It is also why small satellites and CubeSats have become so popular, encouraging development of inexpensive commercial small rockets.

    The American taxpayer isn’t getting all that much for its dime (NASA’s manned space program costs each taxpayer around a dime a day), and these new companies believe that they can do more for less. This is the beauty of free markets, competition, and commercial companies: a race for efficiency and effectiveness.

    If governments and their space agencies continue to insist upon doing things the expensive way, they will be left behind by the upstart commercial startups due to their lower costs and better availability.

  • John

    As a taxpayer in the United States of America I would like to issue the following statement: I approve of and will allow the ISS partners to be okay with the Gateway changes. Thank You.

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