Trump Administration Wants to Privatize the International Space Station

Sunday, 11 February 2018 - 4:46PM
Space
NASA
Sunday, 11 February 2018 - 4:46PM
Trump Administration Wants to Privatize the International Space Station
< >
NASA
News broke last month that the Trump administration was planning to cut off funding to the International Space Station by 2025, but it was assumed that they either planned to de-orbit the station, or that they simply hadn't thought that far ahead. 

But according to a NASA document obtained by the Washington Post, the administration has high hopes that they can sell off the internationally operated station from the public sector into the private sector, with a major implication that it would be turned into a real estate venture. While there are a number of hurdles to this, it could essentially mean the ISS would go from a publicly funded research station to a privately owned condo or resort.

Their full budget plan is slated to come out tomorrow, when they will apparently ask for $150 million to help groom private companies into potential successors for ISS ownership. NASA currently spends about $3-4 billion per years to run it, and the government has spent around $100 billion on it total since the ISS was first launched into low-Earth orbit in 1998.



Other space agencies like the European Space Agency, Japan's JAXA, and Russia's Roscosmos also contribute to the ISS, and while a lapse in funding from the United States could cripple the station regardless, selling off parts of it could create conflict with the numerous other space agencies involved. The document states:

Opening quote
"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 - it 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."
Closing quote


It's not clear what private company might take over the station - companies like SpaceX frequently make deliveries there, while Boeing operates the station for NASA. Boeing, for their part, was opposed to selling off the station, with Mark Mulqueen (Boeing's space station program manager) claiming that the United States would be throwing away a leadership position in the scientific community. But what else is new?

It's not made explicitly clear how the ISS would be used for profit, and it was never designed with that in mind. An optimistic guess could be that the ISS goes to a company that continues the station's scientific research for its own commercial purposes, but a much more pessimistic guess could involve the passing of the ISS to real estate developers, to convert the station into a gaudy space resort for the super rich (Russia already wants to build a luxury wing on the ISS for rich tourists).

Speaking to the Post, Aerospace Industries Association vice president Frank Slazer said that turning the station into a commercial resort would be difficult, because again, the station does not belong to the United States alone:

Opening quote
"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. It's inherently always going to be an international construct that requires U.S. government involvement and multinational cooperation."
Closing quote


The administration's plans have faced blowback from both parties in congress, with even Republican senator Ted Cruz claiming that blowing off the station after sinking $100 billion into it was a dumb idea. We should know more about any specific plans, or if the administration has any more specific plans in mind, in the near future.
Science
Science News
Space
NASA
No