Trump to propose transitioning ISS to private hands post 2024


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It appears that the Trump administration will propose in its 2019 budget, to be released today, to cease funding ISS in 2024 but to aim at a full transition to private control so that the station is not de-orbited when federal funding ceases.

The approach the administration has chosen is one that would end NASA funding of the ISS in 2025, while offering support for the development of commercial successors. “In support of enabling a timely development and transition of commercial capabilities in LEO where NASA could be one of many customers in the mid-2020s, the Administration is proposing to end direct Federal support for the ISS in 2025 under the current NASA-directed operating model,” the document states.

The 2019 budget proposal will offer $150 million “to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS – potentially including elements of the ISS – are operational when they are needed.” The document says “increasing investments” above that $150 million will be included in future years’ budget requests.

The end of federal funding for the ISS would not necessarily mean the end of the station, or at least some parts of it, according to the document. “[I]t is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” it states.

Not surprisingly, there are already hints that there will be massive opposition to such a plan, as it will shift power (and responsibility) from the government to private contractors. Some in Washington will not want the government to lose that power. And some private contractors are simply unwilling to shoulder the responsibility for figuring out how to make money from the station, something that is certainly possible since the development costs will have been fully paid for by the taxpayer.

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10 comments

  • Andrew_W

    The development costs of the ISS are irrelevant to its future, what counts is how costly and effective is it as a commercial facility compared to launching another facility that’s new, modern, specifically designed and paid for by those commercial users.

    It’s an obsolete facility, the government should just let its share die and not waste more money on trying to make it attractive to new private ownership/control. Sell the US bits it for whatever the private market will pay, if anything.

  • Andrew_W

    I just did a quick Google “are chimpanzees evil”, and found this:
    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/06/does-chimp-warfare-explain-our-sense-of-good-and-evil/58643/

    So Dr. Peterson, are chimpanzees “evil”?

  • Andrew_W

    bugger, wrong thread. sorry.

  • Andrew_W

    Wayne, this ones interesting, Peterson thinks Hitlers murderous campaign was driven by the biological drive of disgust, which is obviously very different to the rivalry instincts of more run of the mill authoritarians I’d been speculating about.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZnqLvLbLV0

  • Localfluff

    Axiom Space are already on the way to commercialize the ISS. First module to be lunched in 2021, they say. Will live off the ISS until more modules have been launched to make it an independent space station. Maybe together with what is left of the ISS when it is canceled. And the guys behind this are not the “normal” eccentric billionaires or crowdfunded enthusiasts, but former ISS managers and shuttle astronauts and they seem to have traditional investors. (Maybe that’s why they don’t need to make as much active public relations as some others).

  • Diane Wilson

    ISS development is a sunk cost; decommissioning and de-orbit are not. Whoever owns/operates the shuttle at that point will have to cover those costs, probably along with some hefty liability insurance. If it is “privately owned” then that would probably include the entire ISS, not just the US modules. That has to be part of the profitability calculation.

  • Localfluff

    I think the ISS will become one private part with maybe Axiom or Bigalow as partners with some modules they like. And the Russians separate their module reinforced with a couple of new ones to make it independent. NASA then plans to build and (try to) use their Gatedoor from Heap Scrap as a replacement for 5% of the ISS space station capacity at twice the yearly cost.

  • ken anthony

    Another reason why choosing Trump was the right thing to do. It ultimately doesn’t matter what happens to the ISS. Science will still get done. Probably on a more economically operated private station. ISS is worth something in orbit and business is best to get value out of it.

  • pzatchok

    I can see the ISS being owned by NASA and managed by the best private bidder.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,
    I have been pondering the maintenance costs for the ISS. It has some pretty expensive equipment on it, much of which is required for its operation. Often, the person leasing a commercial building is responsible for the maintenance costs, and since the object of this exercise is “to end funding for the International Space Station in 2025” (From the article), I expect that the lessee will have to pay these costs. For the US government to want to stop spending the money suggests that it is expected to be a lot of money that needs to be spent.

    If NASA leases out the ISS, I wonder what controls it will keep and what constraints will still apply. For instance, NASA currently requires that science data become public domain five years after it is collected. NASA was also reluctant to allow tourists aboard.

    NASA may be reluctant to sell the station, because if it ends up out of control and entering randomly, similar to Tiangong-1, NASA may still get the blame in the public’s eye; NASA may still end up with the responsibility. If they are likely to get blamed for mishaps, they probably want to have some amount of control.

    The overall problem with private operators of ISS is that there are likely to be much less expensive laboratories going to orbit in the coming decade. However, ISS may have capabilities that will take a long time to place on any of these orbiting labs, so ISS could be useful and commercially viable for quite some time.

    The international aspect of the ISS may not present the large problem that the second article suggests. The other countries are also spending a lot of money on ISS, and may be satisfied to receive rent payments rather than spend upkeep money. The proposed Bigelow, Axiom, and Ixion habitats may prove to be less expensive for those countries to perform their own experiments.

    I am beginning to see the next decade much more like ULA’s CisLunar 1000 vision than I did when I first viewed their video, two years ago, although I do not think that we will see 20 people in orbit simultaneously by 2021. CisLunar 1000 may be a little behind “schedule.”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxftPmpt7aA (7 minutes; “ULA Innovation: CisLunar-1000”)

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