There are many companies currently operating on the ISS and generating profits from customers that want access to the commercial hardware. Additionally, Congress has funded nearly $80 million for the development of commercial LEO capabilities. There is no doubt that there are private customers for activities in microgravity, in addition to the needs of NASA and the national security community.
The utilization of LEO, at this time, is not something that can be driven solely by the private sector. Targeted government investments are required; not a huge new program of record, but strategic investments in technologies and capabilities to help push the industry forward. NASA agrees. In its most recent budget request for fiscal year 2021, the space agency states, “NASA’s Commercial LEO Development effort is intended to stimulate both the development of commercially owned and operated LEO destinations from which NASA can purchase services and the continued growth of a commercial ecosystem in LEO.” The request NASA made to Congress was $150 million, this is a modest and reasonable request that will pay dividends for generations.
This is exactly what is required to ensure an eventual, but orderly, transition away from the ISS model to a commercially operated model. Developing private space stations is not cheap, and it is quite risky as a business proposition, but it is doable with modest government investment and creative business leadership. This transition requires industry and Congress to find the right solutions and policies, all with the goal of maintaining America’s preeminence in space, while continuing to drive innovation and creating new opportunities. The alternative is to ignore this transition until faced with a crisis. Even in today’s fast-moving space world, ensuring the United States retains its hard won capabilities in LEO will take time. If we don’t work now toward a post-ISS future, while taking advantage of the ISS as it is today, we will be making a choice to abandon LEO to others in the future.
American leadership in space is at stake. We must do this the right way so that we do not lose the national asset that is our human spaceflight workforce. With collaboration from Congress, the White House, NASA and the private sector, America will be assured that it will not lose any of the gains made on the ISS and in LEO and will continue to lead the world in space for generations to come. The time to act is now, and we must do so together.
This Article firstly Publish on www.politico.com