Trump’s NASA budget will say goodbye to the Space Station and send us back to the moonOn January 27, 2018 by Lucius
It should come as no shock that President Donald Trump wants NASA to send its astronauts to the moon.
Trump revived the National Space Council with Vice President Mike Pence as its head in part to redirect NASA toward sending humans back to the moon for the first time in decades.
But in order to do that, they need money.
NASA’s budget isn’t unlimited, obviously, so the administration will need to set priorities when examining where the agency’s relatively small resources go in the future.
According to a leaked document first reported by The Verge and later obtained by Mashable, those fiscal priorities will likely begin to move away from the International Space Station and start looking toward the moon.
The leaked budget document states that government funding of the Space Station will end by 2025, with the expectation that private companies will effectively take over flying astronauts to low-Earth orbit, the part of space where the laboratory orbits.
But will these private companies, like SpaceX and Boeing, be ready to take over operations in that part of space without the significant government support provided to the Space Station?
The answer appears to be maybe.
“If the leak proves to be true, it could have some interesting ramifications for commercial human spaceflight. Commercial companies should be able to support a self-sufficient industry at that time,” space industry analyst Bill Ostrove said via email.
“SpaceX and Boeing will each have a crew-capsule in operation. Bigelow will have had years of testing of their inflatable habitats by that point. Other spacecraft will be able to function in low Earth orbit as well such as SNC’s Dream Chaser and Orbital ATK’s Cygnus. However, some of these systems are still developmental, and as we’ve seen, sometimes spacecraft (especially human-rated ones) can have unforeseen delays.”
It’s not entirely unreasonable that funding for the Space Station would end by 2025. The program was extended to 2024, but NASA has yet to say that it’s planning to ask for more time on the crewed orbiting outpost.
For its part, NASA isn’t commenting on whether this leaked piece of the budget draft will appear in the final proposed budget expected to be released in February.
“NASA and the International Space Station partnership is committed to full scientific and technical research on the orbiting laboratory, as it is the foundation on which we will extend human presence deeper into space,” NASA said in an emailed statement. “We will not comment on any leaked or pre-decisional documents prior to the release of the President’s FY19 budget, which is scheduled for February 12.”
To the moon?
The leaked piece of the budget suggests that partnerships between private companies and NASA will pave the way to the moon as well, possibly featuring more government support to industry partners through lunar travel partnerships.
According to the leaked budget, the Trump administration expects NASA to send landers and “transportation services” to the moon by the early 2020s.
That said, industry and NASA may not be in a position to send landers and even people to the moon in such a short timeframe.
“The biggest fear for the industry is that the move could pull the rug out from under commercial spaceflight companies,” Ostrove said.
“They will be extremely close to building businesses that are not reliant on the government for funding, but not quite ready to operate without government contracts. That will stop all money from the government going to the industry just as they are about to become self-sufficient.”
At least one member of Congress, Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, has already come out strongly against the plan.
If the administration plans to abruptly pull us out of the International Space Station in 2025, they’re going to have a fight on their hands. This would likely decimate FL’s commercial space industry and hinder our ability to experiment in low-Earth orbit. https://t.co/MdBVwCYHVR
— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) January 25, 2018
“If the administration plans to abruptly pull us out of the International Space Station in 2025, they’re going to have a fight on their hands,” Nelson said via Twitter. “This would likely decimate FL’s [Florida’s] commercial space industry and hinder our ability to experiment in low-Earth orbit.”
It’s also possible that this plan could have the opposite effect.
By presenting a hard deadline, the Trump administration may spur private companies toward becoming self sufficient, giving them more incentive to move away from depending on government money.