The Falcon 9 launch by SpaceX to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 14th highlights the importance of the ISS in furthering space development and settlement. For example, Commercial Resupply Services 6 (CRS-6) lofted the Planetary Resources test spacecraft, the Arkyd 3, which will be launched from the ISS, and marks a significant step on a long road to mining the asteroids. However, the ISS is scheduled for destruction in 2024. If that time comes with no replacement, America’s and humanity’s hard-won foothold in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will be lost.
The National Space Society (NSS) has released policy recommendations to extend and expand this foothold in space. The full paper is available at:
NSS does not suggest that the ISS be replaced by a single, large, government owned and operated facility. Instead, NSS proposes a program structured much like the successful Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) which led to the current CRS program and Commercial Crew (CCDev) programs where NASA helps develop multiple, privately owned, commercially operated space stations and then becomes an anchor tenant. The US ISS National Laboratory could continue to operate using these new space stations.
Additionally, NSS urges that NASA continue the existing CRS cargo and crew transportation arrangements for both up and down access to the new stations. Current international ISS partners and potential future partners would be invited to join the effort based on new partnership agreements, thus ensuring the continued international flavor of humanity’s LEO outposts.
Without adequate planning now, the end of the ISS program will result in the loss of a host of valuable capabilities and activities that promote commerce, science, space operations, and space settlement. Both Russia and China have said they will build stations of their own in the relatively near future. It seems self-evident that the USA will suffer a considerable blow in terms of prestige when the Russians and Chinese can offer stays on their LEO space stations to other nations while the U.S. offers nothing comparable.
NSS Executive Vice-President Dale Skran said, “We congratulate SpaceX on another successful launch demonstrating the efficacy of the COTS approach to developing significant space capabilities at low cost and urge NASA to adopt a similar approach to ensure a gapless transition beyond the ISS.”