In what might be a turning point for the International Space Station, the Trump administration is considering privatizing the orbiting satellite in the near future.
According to The Washington Post, the Trump administration does not plan on allocating funds for the ISS after 2024, which will effectively end direct federal support for the station.
The administration admitted, however, that it will not abandon the orbiting laboratory, but rather work on what The Post referred to as a “transition plan” that would simply hand control of the station over to the private sector.
“The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time,” an internal NASA document reportedly states. “(I)t is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform.”
“NASA will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit.”
Though the document does not go into specific details regarding the idea of privatization, the White House said it will be requesting business plans and market analysis from those in the commercial sector in order to solicit its plan.
It would be a bold step for NASA to turn over the space laboratory to the private sector, though some suggest it may allow NASA to further explore deep space instead.
In the past, former U.S. presidents have overseen public-private partnerships between NASA and private companies.
Now, it appears that the Trump administration is looking to push the envelope even further in order to encourage the “emergence of an environment … where NASA is one of the many customers of a non-governmental human space flight managed and operated enterprise,” according to the NASA document.
However, the document didn’t mention what a private enterprise might do with the space station or which company would ultimately take it over.
The Trump administration will also be requesting $150 million in the 2019 budget proposal in order to further “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.”
Yet, the plan itself may face controversy, as many have pointed out the nearly $100 billion that has already been poured into the ISS.
“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,” Sen. Ted Cruz said last week.
“I think all of us are open to reasonable proposals that are cost-effective and that are utilizing the investments we made in a way that maximize their effectiveness,” the Texas Republican added when asked about the possibility of a public-private partnership.
And many are questioning the ethics of the plan, wondering if it would be based merely on making a profit rather than a true sense of exploration.
“The ISS is built for science and human exploration, it’s not built for profit-seeking,” stated Andrew Rush, who serves as the chief executive of Made In Space, a firm that harnesses the ability to manufacture 3-D printed objects on the space station.
And the politics of it is also needs to be considered, as the ISS has numerous international partners, according to Frank Salazar, the vice president of Aerospace Industries.
“It will be very hard to turn ISS into a truly commercial outpost because of the international agreements that the United States is involved in,” Salazar said. “It’s inherently always going to be an international construct that requires U.S. government involvement and multinational cooperation.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.