Trump budget would privatize United States space station operations


NASA could stop funding to the International Space Station after 2024, at which point a commercial venture could take over.

The Trump administration aims to privatize the International Space Station by 2025, redirecting NASA's investment in the orbiting laboratory complex toward a lunar exploration program.

Now, the Trump administration wants to push that public-private partnership even further to encourage "the emergence of an environment in (low-Earth orbit) where NASA is one of many customers of a non-governmental human space flight managed and operated enterprise, while providing a smooth and uninterrupted transition", the document said.

The United States has spent almost US$100 billion to build and operate the station orbiting around the earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

The transition of the station would mark another bold step for NASA in turning over access to what's known as low Earth orbit to the private sector so that the space agency could focus its resources on exploring deep space.

The ISS could theoretically survive beyond 2025, if someone else picks up the tab; the budget request does not mention de-orbiting the $100 billion station when the government money runs out.

The 2019 NASA budget would be $19.9 billion, but it would drop down to $19.6 billion for the next several years. It would be dubbed the Commercial LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) Development program.

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.

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"Also, the 2019 budget proposal wants to give $10.5bn for an innovative and sustainable campaign of exploration" which would lead to the return of humans to the moon for long-term exploration as well as utilization followed by human missions to Mars and beyond that, as per a NASA review.

"The administration's budget for NASA is a non-starter", said U.S. Sen.

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

The administration is working on a transition plan that "could turn the station over to the private sector", the report said.

"It's a good place for the conversation to begin", said Andrew Rush, CEO of Made in Space, which uses 3D printing to build hardware for space.

Other companies, such as NanoRacks, which creates hardware and services, already has its products on the Space Station. Drug companies like Merck and Eli Lilly have used the space station to research medications.

In an agency-wide address, NASA's acting administrator Robert Lightfoot said it was a "very exciting" budget with lots of potential, despite some hard decisions. They will boost the lab's crew back to six, joining Expedition 55 commander Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and Japanese physician-astronaut Norishige Kanai.