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NASA wrestles with what to do with International Space Station after 2024
May 20, 2018 Stephen Clark

Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s human exploration and operations directorate (left), and Paul Martin, NASA’s inspector general (right), testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness on May 16. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Lawmakers last week questioned the Trump administration’s proposal to end direct U.S. government support of the International Space Station in 2025, citing concerns about the economic viability of commercial outposts in low Earth orbit.

In a pair of hearings before Senate and House panels, NASA’s manager in charge of human spaceflight activities, the agency’s inspector general, and independent experts testified on the future of the International Space Station, and the White House’s plans to discontinue government funding of the orbiting research laboratory.

It has been NASA’s goal since the Obama administration to eventually turn over human spaceflight operations in low Earth orbit, a region a few hundred miles in altitude, to commercial companies, freeing up federal funding to pay for expeditions deeper into space.

The Trump administration in February proposed ending direct U.S. government support of the space station in 2025, prompting debate and discussion over whether commercial industry can make a business of building and operating orbiting research facilities staffed by astronauts.

There are numerous unanswered questions facing lawmakers, NASA officials and entrepreneurs studying the issue.

What is the commercial demand for an orbiting laboratory? Can a commercial operator maintain a space station in low Earth orbit without substantial financial support from the government?

What are NASA’s needs for research in low Earth orbit, as the space agency turns its sights toward the moon and Mars? Will China’s planned space station eat into the market for a commercial research complex in orbit? What do the International Space Station’s other partners think about the plan to privatize human space operations in low Earth orbit?

And there are other questions under consideration, such as how much it will cost to transport humans and cargo between Earth and an orbiting space station in the late 2020s.

Paul Martin, NASA’s inspector general, told the Senate’s Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness on Wednesday that it is unlikely a commercial operator could wholly take over the space station’s annual budget by 2025.

“Based on our work, we question whether a sufficient business case exists under which private companies can create a self-sustaining and profit-making business using the ISS, independent of significant government funding, Martin said. “From our perspective, it is unlikely that a private entity or entities would assume the station’s annual operating costs, currently projected at $1.2 billion in 2024.

“Such a business case requires robust demand for commercial market activities,” Martin added. “Candidly, the scant commercial interest shown in the station over its nearly 20 years of operation give us pause about the agency’s current plans.”

Expedition 55 flight engineer Ricky Arnold works with an experiment on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Two senators expressed their opposition to the station’s privatization during Wednesday’s hearing.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the Trump administration’s proposal to end federal funding for the space station in 2025 “deeply troubling.”

“Nowhere in federal statute is there a request from Congress seeking a hard deadline to end federal support for ISS, to cross our fingers and hope for the best,” said Cruz, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA. “We’ve seen that act play out too many times in our national space program, and it’s time we learn the lessons of history. Prematurely canceling a program for political reasons costs jobs and wastes billions of dollars.”

The subcommittee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, agreed with Cruz.

“Abandoning this incredible orbiting laboratory where they are doing research, when we are on the cusp of a new era of space exploration, would be irresponsible at best, and probably disastrous,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the White House’s proposal to end federal funding of the space station in 2025 was a “random date.”

“So it was a political decision, and as far as this committee is concerned — and I can tell you as far as this senator is concerned — that proposal is dead on arrival,” Nelson said.

“It’s not fair to NASA or to industry to force a transition based on an arbitrary date,” Nelson said. “That decision should be based on factors like NASA’s research requirements and the readiness of industry to take the lead. We need to listen to our scientists and the experts at NASA.”

“We didn’t see the necessity of picking a specific date within the agency, but as part of the administration, we came to the conclusion that picking a date would prompt a serious discussion,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

Cruz and Nelson said they agreed on the importance of maintaining support for the space station.

“As long as I am chairman of this subcommittee, the ISS will continue to have strong support — strong bipartisan support — in the United States Congress,” Cruz said.

NASA and its partners have spent more than $100 billion designing, building and operating the space station over three decades. The research facility costs between $3 billion and $4 billion per year to operate, a budget that includes costs for cargo and crew transportation.

Following the privatization model used in cargo and crew transportation after the space shuttle’s retirement, NASA wants to commercialize human spaceflight operations in low Earth orbit in hopes of easing costs and freeing up government funding for deep space missions.

Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing technology for a commercial space station, has proposed installing a large commercial expandable habitat on the International Space Station as a follow-up to ongoing experiments with a smaller module. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

NASA plans to construct a mini-space station in orbit around the moon in the 2020s for use as a research platform to gain experience with long-duration crew stays farther away from Earth. The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway could also be a staging point for landers carrying experiments and astronauts to and from the moon’s surface.

Gerstenmaier said NASA does not intend to give up on human spaceflight in low Earth orbit, but that the agency aims to be one of multiple customers for a potential commercial space station — either a privatized ISS or a new privately-developed platform.

He identified the development of new pharmaceutical drugs and in-space manufacturing as two potential commercial applications for an orbiting space station.

“To be clear, NASA is not abandoning low Earth orbit,” Gerstenmaier said. “We must ensure the right pieces are in place to maintain an operational human preseence in low Earth orbit, whether through a modified ISS program, commercial platforms, or some combination of both.”

A recent audit concluded that NASA will not be able to complete research aboard the International Space Station into the human health risks of long-duration spaceflight, or finish developing new technologies to enable lengthy crewed missions to the moon and Mars, by the end of 2024, according to Martin, the agency’s inspector general.

NASA released a solicitation Thursday asking U.S. companies and research institutions for studies examining the market for a commercial space station in low Earth orbit, detailed business plans, and concepts for orbiting human research outposts. Organizations selected by NASA later this summer will receive up to $1 million each for their studies.

NASA is also asking companies for concepts that may include the attachment of commercial habitats or labs to the forward end of the International Space Station’s Harmony module.

But Martin said the agency must find a way to reduce its expenditures on low Earth orbit human spaceflight programs if it hopes to pay for crewed missions to the moon’s vicinity, and eventually the lunar surface.

“Any assumption that ending direct federal funding (of the International Space Station) frees up $3 to $4 billion beginning in 2025 to use on other NASA exploration initiatives is wishful thinking,” Martin said. “That said, unless the agency receives a substantial increase in funding or can dramatically reduce costs, it will be hard-pressed to continue supporting ISS operations under its current model while attempting to fund other initiatives such as the lunar gateway … a moon landing, and a crewed Mars mission.”

Gerstenmaier said he believes a relatively flat budget, adjusted for inflation and economic growth, could simultaneously support a somewhat reduced low Earth orbit human spaceflight program and NASA’s deep space exploration initiatives.

He said the International Space Station, which has modules originally designed for a 15-year lifetime, could be operated safely through at least 2028, the 30-year anniversary of the launch of the facility’s first elements.

“I think we have a good operational life at least through 2028, and possibly a little bit further beyond that,” Gerstenmaier said. “We just need to continue to watch station, continue to maintain it.

“What we don’t want to have happen is where we’re spending more time doing maintenance than we are doing research,” he said. “At that point, then the utility of station starts to diminish. We have not seen that. Station is very viable at least through 2028.”

In a separate hearing Thursday before the House Science Committee, lawmakers heard testimony from Bhavya Lal, who helped lead a study investigating the viability of a commercially-operated space station at the Institute for Defense Analyses’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.

“This transition (to a commercial space station) can occur in two primary ways,” she said. “The ISS could be privatized, as in all or parts of it could be taken over by a private entity and operated on behalf of the government, much like most DOE (Department of Energy) labs are today. Alternatively, a private sector entity could build, launch and operate a commercial low Earth Orbit based platform for profit.”

Bhavya Lal, a researcher at the Institute for Defense Analyses’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, testifies during a House Science Committee hearing on May 17. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Lal’s team looked at two different space station configurations, and they assumed that launch prices in 2025 would be reduced by 50 to 75 percent from today’s prices, a prospective price cut she described as an “aggressive assumption.”

“In three of the four scenarios we postulated, revenues did not cover costs,” she said. “Venture capitalists we spoke to indicated that projected revneue streams are too far in the future and too uncertain to warrant making significant investments today. Overall, our analysis showed that it is unlikely the a commercial space station would be economically viable by 2025.”

Lal agreed with Gerstenmaier and Martin that an extension of the space station’s lifetime through 2028 — with operating costs similar to today’s — would take money away from deep space exploration and delay the return of astronauts to the moon.

“It may also take away opportunities from a rapidly burgeoning private sector that feels ready to lead acitvities in LEO,” Lal said.

“The ISS or modules within it could be privatized with a private sector entity operating the station, but paid for largely by the government,” she said. “Depending on how the deal is structured, this could, in principle, yield cost savings, although this cannot be assumed.

“NASA could select a private entity to operate a commercial platform and grant space or request services as a tenant,” Lal said. “While this option is best suited to help LEO commercialization, it will likely require some level of a government subsidy for the commercial operator. In our analysis, an annualized payment of about $2 billion could cover the cost of the platform, even in a case of zero revenues.”

Gerstenmaier said NASA will take the information from the commercial studies to be conducted later this year to help plan the future of the International Space Station.

“We need to see what comes from industry and see what’s reasonable, and then do the budget analysis.”

Once NASA decides to retire and decommission the space station, the complex will be de-orbited over the Pacific Ocean, and most it will burn up during re-entry.

One company that has long planned to develop a commercial space station is Bigelow Aerospace, founded by Robert Bigelow, a billionaire who made his fortune in real estate.

Bigelow announced in February the formation of a subsidiary named Bigelow Space Operations that will manage sales, operations and customer service for Bigelow Aerospace’s space stations. Bigelow has an experimental expandable module currently attached to the International Space Station, the company says it plans to launch two larger expandable modules in 2021.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, Bigelow said the new sales firm will spend “missions of dollars this year” to probe the market for a commercial space station.

“The time is now to quantify in detail the global, national and corporate commercial space market for orbiting stations,” the Bigelow statement said. “This subject has had ambiguity for many years.”

Source: NASA wrestles with what to do with International Space Station after 2024

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Odp: [ Spaceflight Now] NASA wrestles with what to do with ISS after 2024
« Odpowiedź #1 dnia: Czerwiec 09, 2018, 20:07 »
Senators reiterate opposition to ISS transition proposal
by Jeff Foust — June 6, 2018

Witnesses at a June 6 Senate hearing said uncertainty about the future of the ISS after 2025 is already starting to deter some companies and scientists who had been interested in using it. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — Members of the Senate space subcommittee used a June 6 hearing to once again express opposition to the administration’s proposal to end NASA funding of the International Space Station in 2025.

In the second in a series of hearings on the future of the ISS, witnesses from industry and other organizations said either transitioning the ISS to commercial operators, or shifting to new commercial space stations, may not be feasible by that time, and that even consideration of the proposal may scare away potential station users.

“We understand that commercialization is imminent, and we are fully supporting this process. However, to achieve this goal, enough time must be given both for a smooth transition and for the nation to realize a return on investment,” said Cynthia Bouthot, director of commercial innovation and sponsored programs at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which operates the portion of the ISS designated a national laboratory.

Bouthot said setting a 2025 date for ending NASA funding of the ISS, and potential the station as a whole, is starting to concern researchers. “We’ve already had anecdotal evidence of companies that we’re working with to try to get to the station hesitate once that 2025 date was announced,” she said.

On the heels of a Washington Post report where NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency was in discussions with several companies about taking over the station, an executive with one major aerospace company expressed skepticism that the ISS itself could be operated profitably.

Jim Chilton, senior vice president for space and launch at Boeing, said at the hearing that it costs NASA about $3.2 billion a year to operate the U.S. segment of the ISS. That includes $1.8 billion in cargo and crew transportation costs, $1.1 billion in operations of the station itself and $300 million for research. By contrast, commercial activities at the station today produce only about $100 million in revenue. “That’s a big gap,” he said.

Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, was skeptical cost savings that would be created by ending funding of the ISS would provide significant additional resources for NASA’s deep space exploration efforts. “Commercial alternatives would likely cost significantly more to sustain than the ISS, creating an entirely new development program while providing a fraction of the existing capability,” he said.

One of those companies planning commercial space stations is Axiom Space. Michael Suffredini, the president and chief executive of the company and a former NASA ISS program manager, said NASA should approach any transition to commercial space stations carefully. “One concept must remain inviolable: the United States must not relinquish uninterrupted access to LEO for its astronauts,” he said.

He did press NASA, though, to accelerate efforts to bring on commercial modules to the ISS. In 2016, NASA issued a request for information from companies interested in using a docking port on the station. The agency has yet to follow up that request with a competition and is now instead seeking proposals for LEO commercial market studies.

“NASA must allow companies to compete for the right to attach one or more modules to the ISS as soon as possible,” he said. That competition, he said, should take place in parallel with the commercialization studies, and not wait until after the studies are completed at the end of this year.

Senators at the hearing made it clear even before the witnesses testified that they remained opposed to ending NASA funding of the ISS by 2025, particularly since it has the technical ability to operate through at least 2028. “It is my firm belief that it would be irresponsible for the United States government to prematurely end the life of the International Space Station before maximizing American taxpayer investment,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the subcommittee.

Cruz had previously criticized the proposal, as had Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the full Senate Commerce Committee. “Why in the world would you want to take a large, multi-year investment of $100 billion and suddenly deorbit it and let it burn up on reentry?” Nelson asked.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member of the space subcommittee, did not participate in last month’s hearing on the ISS, but appeared in lockstep with his colleagues at this hearing. “We simply cannot pull the plug on the International Space Station without a plan in place for what comes next,” he said.

A conversation “on steroids”

A few hours before the hearing, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine met with reporters at NASA Headquarters. One of the topics he addressed was the future of the ISS and any transition to commercial operations of the station, or commercial space stations.

“There are companies that are interested in managing the ISS from a commercial perspective. That exists right now, and that existed before I got to NASA,” he said. The issue, he said, is what circumstances would allow those companies to close their business plans by operating the ISS, or some elements of it.

“No decisions have been made” about the station’s future, he emphasized. “There’s a range of options here. What the president’s budget request did is it has started this conversation, and kind of put it on steroids.”

One big issue for any ISS transition, he said, is to avoid any gap in human activity to low Earth orbit. “We saw what happened with the space shuttles,” he said. “We don’t want that to happen with low Earth orbit.”

The other major issue, he said, is figuring out how much NASA wants to spend on activities in LEO after the end of the ISS, and how much commercial activities can cover the costs of such activities. “There are opportunities here for us to look at options, a range of options, that ultimately enable us to go further, which is the objective,” he said.

Any decision on the future of the ISS, he said, will be done in consultation with the other countries involved on the station, discussions that are already underway. “Nothing will be done outside of the consent and advice of our international partners.”

Source: Senators reiterate opposition to ISS transition proposal

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Odp: [ Spaceflight Now] NASA wrestles with what to do with ISS after 2024
« Odpowiedź #2 dnia: Czerwiec 09, 2018, 23:17 »
Może nie starczyć kasy na to żeby jednocześnie budować DSG, i utrzymywać przy życiu ISS.