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Europe space chief says privatising ISS unrealistic

15 February 2018

The Trump administration has released the NASA budget proposal for the fiscal year 2019 on Feb 12.

With the Trump administration's plan to hand off the International Space Station (ISS) to the private sector, the key question is who will emerge as the big players.

The approach the administration has chosen is one that would end NASA funding of the ISS in 2025, while offering support for the development of commercial successors.

It was reported last month that Trump would request an end to ISS funding by 2025, which many have criticized as throwing a wrench in USA space exploration plans, as the ISS is the sole destination for US astronauts.

The US plan, the paper said, involves privatising the ISS, a low-orbit space station piloted by the US space agency NASA and developed jointly with its Russian counterpart. The U.S. has spent over $100 billion to build and operate the space station.

The 2019 fiscal plan, which includes a 10-year spending blueprint, is not formal legislation, and final congressional budget measures rarely conform to presidential proposals. Frank Slazar, the vice president of space systems for the Aerospace Industries Association, pointed out to the Post that the worldwide agreements the United States signed regarding the creation of the ISS would render making it a commercial outpost tricky.

A report on the tech website The Verge said a draft of the budget proposal anticipated ending funding for the space station after 2024, which the Post report followed up with news that the administration was looking to keep the ISS operational, but not on its dime or under its authority.

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Almost half of the proposed $19.9 billion budget - $10.5 billion - is earmarked for "an innovative and sustainable campaign of exploration and lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilisation followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations", according to a NASA overview.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which represents companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, was open to the proposal, but said defunding the station before 2028 "would not allow sufficient time" for a private-sector transition.

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

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, made it clear last week that he opposes any plan to terminate the International Space Station as long as it can be productively operated. There's only two crew missions a year.

Cochair of the WFIRST research team, David Spergel, who is an astrophysicist at the Princeton University, thinks that it is awful that space astronomy leadership is being abandoned, following the recommendation of the Trump administration to cut the mission.

Other companies, such as NanoRacks, which creates hardware and services, already has its products on the Space Station.

Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, called it a "pretty exciting time" for the agency.

Europe space chief says privatising ISS unrealistic