International Space Station could be privatized under Trump administration plan

Audrey Hill
February 15, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump has proposed turning over to private businesses U.S. operations on the International Space Station, which is now run jointly by the U.S. and Russian governments.

Mark Mulqueen, the space station program manager for Boeing, told the Post that pulling government funding for the station would be a "mistake".

But the gyros are not able to change the station's altitude and the USA segment does not include any thrusters or fuel storage tanks. The supersize Space Launch System rocket being built by NASA to send astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit - along with its Orion crew capsule - would get $3.7 billion under this budget.

But any transition to a more private-sector operation using any part of the International Space Station would be hard given the lab's design. Drug companies like Merck and Eli Lilly have used the space station to research medications.

Any use of the station as a more commercially focused research platform would require Russian cooperation, and it's far from clear the Russians would be willing to extend operations beyond 2024 in any case.

Next up for the Russians is the return of three station crew members aboard the Soyuz MS-06/52S spacecraft February 27, bringing outgoing station commander Alexander Misurkin and two NASA astronauts, Mark Vande Hei and Joseph Acaba, back to a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan to close out a 166-day stay in space. Under Trump's proposed budget, Washington would pull governmental funding and instead provide a budget of $150 million (122 million euros) to encourage the involvement of private enterprise in the ISS.

Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting chief, will offer a "State of NASA" address Monday afternoon to offer more details on the proposed spending plan.

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"As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can to is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead", he said.

The space station is an worldwide partnership, and it's not clear what privatizing the USA portion would mean for the other countries. "We have invested massively in the ISS".

The internal memo also stated that the White House "will request market analysis and business plans from the commercial sector and solicit plans from commercial industry" as it leans into a future of commercially operated habitats in the low-Earth orbit, according to the report. All these things indicate that the U.S. government is more interested in human explorations of space rather than research and experiments on ISS.

A variety of options have been considered, ranging from continuing normal operations through 2024, de-orbiting all or part of the station and transitioning to a public-private partnership with NASA as one of many customers.

The directive, which is based on recommendations of the recently re-activated National Space Council (NSC), will refocus NASA on its core mission, space exploration, the White House spokesman said.

WFIRST's cancellation is "due to its significant cost and [the presence of] higher priorities within NASA", according to the budget overview.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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