If you’re a space geek, you may have heard that the Trump Administration is finalizing their plans to end financial support for the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025.
The ISS has more than proven itself as a very useful scientific microgravity test bed for numerous commercial and government experiments, as well as testing how the human body reacts and survives in an almost weightless environment.
For instance, many smaller satellite companies test their products within the ISS to ensure that they function properly once deployed into space in their own orbit. Also, many proposed components that may eventually make their way to be part of the future manned missions are currently being tested on the ISS.
To now hear that the US side of the station will most likely lose its funding it 2025 is disheartening to many, as no viable alternative has been developed to fill the gap. However, there are other factors which paint the ISS in a less than economical light.
The biggest problem is that NASA’s budget simply cannot sustain the ISS and also fund future manned missions to the Moon and Mars at the same time. With the development of heavy lifting rockets, the Space Launch System, and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (for deep space manned missions), the proposed budget changes simply changes the direction that the administration want NASA to take, rather than shutting down their space operations entirely.
Back in early 2017, Buzz Aldrin also said that support for the ISS would need to be discontinued if NASA seriously wanted to send a manned mission to Mars.
“We must retire the ISS as soon as possible,” the former Apollo 11 moonwalker said Tuesday (May 9) during a presentation at the 2017 Humans to Mars conference in Washington, D.C. “We simply cannot afford $3.5 billion a year of that cost.”
An aging space station
The ISS has been in orbit for over 19 years, and has grown considerably since its launch. As time passes by, the station’s components start to show their age.
For instance, the solar panels which generated 220 kilowatts of power when they were new, are only outputting around 160 kilowatts now due to solar radiation blackening the glass tiles covering the cells. With less power and more modules, energy consumption is slowly becoming a talking point, even though the station is still well below its limits.
Other minor issues such as aging computers and slow internet speeds can also be frustrating as more and more projects and experiments are being hosted on the lab.
Some of the earlier modules themselves are also quite old and are reaching the end of their limited lifespan. As physical components age due to corrosion and degradation, the cost to keep them functional slowly increases over time.
NASA predicted that they could push the station to last as long as 2028, but it would also mean that other partner countries involved would have to agree to the same, which does not seem to be the case at the moment.
To hear that Donald Trump is pushing for an end to the ISS’ budget by 2025 should come as no surprise. While many people globally may not agree with Trump’s presidential management style, this is a decision that has been in the works well before his time. If anything, the proposed budget actually gives the program an extra year of life versus the previous 2024 suggested funding cut off time.
The reality is that ISS is slowly reaching the end of its life, and the administration is now aiming to once again send a man to the Moon, and even as far as Mars.
The only problem is that no real alternative for low orbit testing has been put in place just yet. This means that many commercial space companies may find is extremely difficult to test their equipment is an actual space environment. It could also hinder human testing, which could have provided vital statistics to gauge how future space explorers would survive the trip to Mars.
Don’t freak out just yet though. The proposed plan still has to be approved by Congress before it can take effect. However, if Trump keeps pushing for discontinuation of the program, it could easily convince ISS partners to also pack up shop and take their modules with them by the end of 2024.