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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.