2021 – Year of the Space Station?

Circling 16 times 250 miles from Earth, space stations are among humanity’s most impressive achievements. The International Space Station (ISS) is a partnership between NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos, with US contributions from Canada, Japan, Europe and other countries. Its future is not yet clear, and is dependent on decisions to be made this year.

About 75 percent of the ISS costs are borne by the US at an annual cost of $ 3 billion to $ 4 billion. In 1998 Russia launched the first components of ISS and by 2010 ISS was fully operational. The plan was for the ISS for the last 15 to 20 years, by which time it would be replaced. It was not to be.

The ISS costs more than $ 150 billion, five times the combined budget of NASA and Roscosmos, so it will have a huge undertaking in place, perhaps a collection of funds for Earth observation, human travel to the Moon or Mars, or deep space exploration. The Trump administration’s “Artemis” response was to shift Earth-orbiting space centers from government to the private sector and to focus on government spending rather than lunar-orbiting space stations and human moon landings. With many countries already agreeing to invest in the US lunar space station, it is difficult to see how these countries would also invest in the $ 100 billion replacement ISS. Therefore, unless the Artemis program is delayed, the financial burden of a new ISS will be on the US.

Extending the life of the ISS is made easier by its component design, which facilitates the removal of worn parts, such as solar panels. Accordingly, NASA, Roskosmos and international partners agreed to keep it operational until 2028 (8 to 10 years longer than its lifetime) and perhaps until 2030.

The ISS is already 20, and at this age – we must be prepared for the surprise: when a slow air leak was discovered, an astronaut initially plugged it in with his finger, then with tape Patched This is not the only time they have held air in the station with tape, and it is unlikely that this will be the final halt before 2030, with nothing to say about the risk of a debris collision. If there is to be a comparable replacement for the ISS by 2030, preparatory work should begin by 2021. If work on the replacement does not begin until 2021, there is a possibility that a comparable station 2028/30 will shrink. But there is more.

The ISS is about to get heavy publicity: parts of the two major films are planned to be filmed there this year. Universal Studios and NASA announced that the $ 200 million Tom Cruise thriller would be partially filmed inside the ISS, and Russia’s Channel One and Roskosmos announced they would do a film as well. Glamorized scenes aboard the ISS may soon awake millions.

Although Roskosmos has agreed to continue the ISS through 2028/30, it indicated that if the US were to discontinue the US ISS segment, Russia would separate the Russians’ segments and make them stand-alone or Will use as a partnering Russian space station. No one in Russia has forgotten that the first space stations were Russian or that the Mir space station operated 14 years before the ISS. The possibility of a Russian-run space station remains.

Strong opposition to US defense interests has halted space cooperation between the US and China, effectively restricting the 2011 law. Not surprisingly, China has followed a space program without joining the ISS. It includes satellite, lunar and planetary missions and, in 2011, China launched its own space stations, Tiangong 1 and 2. In 2021, China will begin construction of Tiangong 3, a multi-module station that begins to look like the ISS. It should be operational in 2022, includes European and other astronauts, and remains well after the ISS.

Assuming the US does not manufacture ISS replacements, then America’s main strategy would be to replace ISS with private space stations. Many US companies have already started work, although most use the ISS as a foundation.

The major US business building has its own station privately owned Exicom Space, which launches companies such as Space X from sub-centers and module manufacturing to Thales Alenia Corp. The “Axiom station” will be a 3-module space station, initially connected to the ISS. Isolating at the end of 2020. Axiom plans to use one module for operations, another for use / manufacturing and the third as a luxury resort. Last year, NASA awarded Axiom $ 140 million to help build its first module. Axiom will host Universal Studios and Tom Cruise this year and will send 3 space tourists for a week aboard the ISS in 2022, who paid $ 55 million.

Other companies are ahead, including Sierra Nevada Corp, Nano Rack and Bigelow.

One of the most important recent developments in US space policy was the formation of the US Space Force (USSF). One of its main objectives is to protect American space assets, and it is difficult to imagine that the USSF leadership would not consider a military space station. While NASA has long collaborated with the military and while one of the largest owners of US military satellites, a manned US military space station has not been proposed since the 1960s.

Last year, the Defense Innovation Unit awarded the Sierra Nevada a contract to build an unmanned orbital outpost, which could host a military contingent. The company will use its planned cargo vehicle as a platform from where it will build a military outpost. The initial flight of the cargo vehicle is connected to the space plane of the Sierra Nevada, scheduled for 2021. This would clearly form the basis for the conversion of the vehicle to a military space station.

So, construction will begin this year on a new Chinese space station and an American business space station; The Pentagon will begin chasing its first space station, and – perhaps – we will learn more about any future Russian space station. More importantly, the Biden administration would have decided whether there would be a replacement for the ISS, especially – given the long lead time – no decision in 2021.

Roger kocheti Providing consulting and advisory services in Washington, DC, he was a senior executive with the Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT) from 1994 to 1994. He also directed Internet Public Policy for IBM from 1994 to 2000 and later served as Senior Vice President and Chief Policy Officer. VeriSign for Compia and Director for Group Policy. He has served on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information Policy during the Bush and Obama administrations, testified several times on Internet policy issues and served on advisory committees to the FTC and various UN agencies. He is the author of the Mobile Satellite Communications Handbook.