The International Space Station has been a cornerstone in NASA’s portfolio of spacecrafts since its launch in 1998, but all good things must come to an end, and some of NASA’s safety advisers are getting nervous about what’s next according to a report from SpaceNews.
At a meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel yesterday, NASA advisers raised concerns that the commercial space stations that are set to take over the duties of the International Space Station will not be ready before the ISS crashes into the Pacific Ocean at the end of its life in 2030. These space stations are a part of the Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destinations program, and NASA previously awarded contracts to Blue Origin, Nanoracks, and Northrop Gumman to design space stations that will help NASA pivot away from the ISS.
Plans to transition away from the ISS to commercial space stations “are on a precarious trajectory to realisation on a schedule and within the projected resources needed to maintain a NASA LEO presence,” said Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel chair Patricia Sanders, as quoted by SpaceNews. “This is an area of concern for us.”
NASA’s move to place space stations in the hands of private companies will help the agency save a ton of money: NASA reported to Congress that the it projects $US1.3 ($2) billion in savings in 2031 and $US1.8 ($2) billion per year by 2033. These savings, however, might cost NASA’s presence in low Earth orbit if a commercial space station is not ready for launch by 2030, which is a likely possibility. NASA’s Office of Inspector General said in a 2021 report that future research using microgravity that could inform crewed missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond simply will not be ready by 2030.
NASA isn’t completely giving up on its space stations, though. The upcoming Lunar Gateway is a massive project that will revolutionise NASA’s ability to conduct scientific research and commute to the Moon.