A new report by the Space Inspector General concludes that NASA has no easy choice when it comes to the future of the vast International Space Station, which revolves some 400 km above the Earth. The station, which has been inhabited by humans for almost two decades, is currently the only space-based target for astronauts and cosmonauts.
Recently, the White House announced that it would end NASA's direct funding for space station in 2025 and transfer operations to the private sector. Key Senators who oversee NASA's activities have rejected this idea in two ways, saying that the station should be funded by 2028 to fulfill its mission of scientific research. It would also contribute to the development and testing of new technologies needed for human space exploration, such as toilets that do not break down every six months.
In the report released on Monday, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin noted both decisions have some significant drawbacks. "Each of the ways to bring about or abolish the ISS presents NASA with particular challenges and associated costs," the report said.
: Privatization of the Station
NASA spent more than a decade and nearly 100 billion dollars to build the station together with international partners in Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan in the 2000s. NASA now spends $ 3-4 billion annually to service the station, including an ongoing maintenance contract with Boeing and commercial cargo and crew services. That's about half of NASA's total human exploration activity budget.
The White House plans to transfer the station to a private unit in 2025, with NASA assuming "tenant" status in low Earth orbit and then spending that extra billions of dollars to give its fictional plans to humans to send to the moon and Mars some basis in reality. However, since the proposal for the transition, it has not been clear whether a private entity could operate the station profitably. The Inspector General is also concerned.
"Based on our audit work, we question the viability of NASA's plans," the report said. "In particular, we ask whether there is a sufficient business case in which private companies are able to develop a self-sustaining and profitable business, regardless of significant federal funding." In particular, it is unlikely that the station will incur annual operating costs currently at $ 1.2 billion in 2024. "
In short, the market simply does not exist beyond existing microgravity research, which could include space tourism, satellite maintenance, manufacturing, and research and development. Allegations that such markets will exist in six years are "too optimistic," the report says. And without the station after 2024, the report states that NASA will not complete a number of astronaut health and technology development projects, including environmental control and life support systems.
Option 2: Flying through the 2020s
Alternative Congress The station was able to fly through the year 2028. The main contractor of the station, Boeing, has recently certified that the main components of the orbiting laboratory will remain in good condition by then. This would provide NASA and its academic partners with the security they need for long-term missions, and would enable the space agency to prove the technology it needs to send people safely deeper into space. However, the price is high: continued spending of $ 3 to $ 4 billion a year, plus further delays of a human return to the moon or possible trips to Mars in a few decades.
"We found that funding for NASA 's human exploration program remains constant. The continuation of ISS funding by 2028 will require either increased funding in the 2020s to develop exploration systems suitable for Mars missions The agency also needs to postpone the timetable for its Mars exploration plans, "the report said
Station could also address the nascent efforts of companies such as Bigelow and Axiom to develop lower-cost, smaller private stations in a near-Earth orbit hinder.
The bottom line is that one of the most consequential spaces is Disagreements between the White House and the Trump Congress affect the future of the International Space Station. From the point of view of advancing human activity to the last frontier, the position of both sides currently does not seem to be a sure winner.