Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
ISS Businesses Government Space United States Politics

The Trump Administration is Moving To Privatize the International Space Station: Report (techcrunch.com) 235

The Trump administration is planning to privatize the international space station instead of simply decommissioning the orbiting international experiment in 2024, The Washington Post reports. From a report: According to a document obtained by the Post, the current administration is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private industry instead of de-orbiting it as NASA "will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit." The Post also reported that the administration was looking to request $150 million in fiscal year 2019 "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS -- potentially including elements of the ISS -- are operational when they are needed." The U.S. government has already spent roughly $100 billion to build and operate the space station as part of an international coalition that also includes the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Russian Space Agency.

The Trump Administration is Moving To Privatize the International Space Station: Report

Comments Filter:
  • Meh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Grim Reefer ( 1162755 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:05PM (#56109205)

    I'm not a fan of discontinuing the ISS. Especially when it's still functional and appears it will be so for many more years. Even more so if there's no direct replacement for it.

    While I wasn't a fan of the space shuttle to begin with, I also think it was foolish to retire it with no valid replacement.

    I'm not sure how the international community is going to feel about the US selling off the ISS since several other countries have invested it the ISS as well. But Russia has also sold tourist trips to it in the past.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      If those other countries are concerned they can pick up the tab to keep it running. Privatization is better than de-orbit. Someone has to pay the bills. Why should it always be the US?

      • Re:Meh... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:18PM (#56109333) Homepage Journal

        Russia has already said that if the US abandoned the ISS it would likely keep its modules in orbit and perhaps invite the Chinese to participate. I doubt that the US would de-orbit its bits if that were the case, it would just abandon them to the other countries.

        Commercialization seems like it would require agreement from the other nations. Russia is way ahead on that front, having been doing commercial flights for years, including to Mir. In fact I read that Russia had been pressuring the US to allow more commercial use of the ISS for years anyway.

        • Then it's a win-win for everyone. I would rather see NASA use their budget for something else other than LEO and an overpriced research platform.

      • No sense (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:32PM (#56109469)

        If those other countries are concerned they can pick up the tab to keep it running.

        There are plenty of people in the US who want to keep it running. They just don't happen to occupy the white house or congress at the moment.

        Privatization is better than de-orbit.

        You are assuming privatization is possible. I'm having trouble imagining any viable privatization scenario. Explain to me where the profit comes from for a private enterprise taking over management of the ISS. Who would be interested and why? It costs about $3 billion/year to keep it flying so which private enterprise is going to foot that bill?

        Someone has to pay the bills. Why should it always be the US?

        A) We have the most money by a wide margin so that's why we get to pay for the expensive fancy stuff. There aren't a lot of countries that can afford something like the ISS and that is to our advantage. B) Investments in scientific research have big long term payoffs. If we have gotten everything we can out of the ISS then fine but if it still has value then it is foolish to pull the figurative plug on it early. There is also the opportunity cost to consider. That said though I have trouble with the argument that we should pull the plug on the ISS when we spend $600+ billion per year on a needlessly large military. Heck we spend hundreds of millions each year on tanks that we don't need and that the military doesn't want [dailymail.co.uk].

        • Re:No sense (Score:5, Insightful)

          by HanzoSpam ( 713251 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @02:00PM (#56109691)

          It's a matter of priorities. Keeping the ISS afloat means we don't have money for other projects, like the moon or Mars. It would be nice if congress would budget enough money for both, but they ain't gonna do that, so we have the choice of using the money that NASA is actually going to get to stay in same place, or accomplish some new goals. Life means making choices. That sucks, but there it is.

          • It's a matter of priorities. Keeping the ISS afloat means we don't have money for other projects, like the moon or Mars.

            I doubt that. If we were going to go to Mars we'd need the ISS for research yet to be done. In the very least and probably in addition to, we'd need another space station in higher orbit in less protected space. However, from what I've read the ISS is being decommissioned because it is wearing out and upkeep is becoming more expensive. The gaskets and seals will be past their expected lifetimes by time it is decommissioned and other parts are also wearing out. The costs of trying to repair it would be great

        • Explain to me where the profit comes from for a private enterprise taking over management of the ISS.

          Why? I said privatization is better than de-orbit. I didn't say what that means or how it would work. Between the unknown idea of privatization that keeps it in orbit compared to de-orbit, the former is a better option. Or are you saying that de-obrit is preferable to privatization because your not sure what privatization means (neither do I)?

          A) We have the most money by a wide margin so that's why we get to pay for the expensive fancy stuff

          So? What do we owe ESA, RSA, or JAE? We have already paid for the ISS in the largest margins. Why should the US keep paying larger margins for use by others?

          e. B) Investments in scientific research have big long term payoffs

          The scienc

        • "We have the most money by a wide margin..."

          For the time being. As long as the biggest financial swindle in world history continues - the clever trick of getting everyone to agree on the dollar as world currency at Bretton Woods (provided it remained backed by gold), followed by Nixon taking the dollar off the gold standard in 1971. Ever since 1971 the US government gets to turn the handle and create dollars out of thin air, and mug foreigners go on accepting it as money.

          That's not going to go on much longe

          • Damn straight. Gonna take those air-gapped dollars and by me some bitcoins. That'll show 'em.

        • by DeBaas ( 470886 )

          It costs NASA 3 billion a year. That doesn't mean it needs to cost 3 billion a year to keep it in orbit or even operational to a private party.

        • So the 2-3 billion a year operational cost keeps being thrown around, why is that so high? Is it due to the number of support launches, and if so, wouldn't having cheap heavy lift capability (like the Falcon Heavy) make it much cheaper to maintain?

          It seems to me if nothing else the solar modules and frame would be useful for something, since they are already in orbit.

      • by DogDude ( 805747 )
        Why should it always be the US?

        Because the US is the wealthiest country on the planet, and used to lead in research of all kinds. We could support the ISS for decades more for the cost of one stupid fighter jet.
    • by phayes ( 202222 )

      Privatizing ISS isn't what everyone wishes for, it's privatizing access to Space & killing the Senate Launch System.

      This is just another tactic to make (some) people argue about ISS to avoid their asking questions about SLS.

  • Trump Hotel and Casino IN SPACE!
    • by suutar ( 1860506 )

      And one day it will crash and burn. Literally.

    • I always wondered if there were enough billionaire sci-fi fans out there to make space tourism profitable.

      I think that they might need to add a luxury suite to justify the million dollar a night rate, though. I'm not sure how they're going to pull off the zero G hot tub, though. That might get messy.

  • Has checkbook, and the means to get there.

    • Re:Elon Musk (Score:5, Interesting)

      by afidel ( 530433 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:10PM (#56109253)

      Yeah but he won't want a fixer-upper, by the time NASA is out of the ISS he'll hopefully have BFR up and running and can just buy a few modules from Bigelow and launch them himself, more space and probably a fraction of the cost with none of the upkeep headaches. Plus that way he can lay them out the way he wants them with the most modern tech, not something from the 80's.

    • by sjbe ( 173966 )

      Has checkbook, and the means to get there.

      And then what? Show me what economically useful thing he could/would do with it. Plus as rich as he is, he doesn't really have a spare $3 billion PER YEAR laying around to keep the thing operational.

      • by cfc-12 ( 1195347 )

        And then what?

        And then ???, and then profit. Duh!

      • Spaceborne country club for billionaires. Annual membership fee: $10m. That way you only need 300 members.

      • by Megane ( 129182 )
        He wouldn't need to do anything more than lease it out to NASA and charge for rides after ISS is deprecated. Anything after that is gravy.
  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:12PM (#56109267) Journal
    While I think that inevitably there needs to be more private-sector involvement in space development, I don't think my (and others') reasons for this are the same as Trumps' reasons. I also see some problems with privatization at this time:

    1. There's great expense and little profit, currently, in anything space-related, that doesn't involve launching satellites. Private corporations aren't interested much in scientific research, they're interested in return-on-investment, and at the moment anything that isn't a productive satellite being launched into LEO isn't profitable. Perhaps in 50 to 100 years, given steady development of space vehicles, potentially lowering costs, there might be, but I just don't see it at current.

    2. If it all becomes privatized, is there going to be goverment oversight (or perhaps U.N. oversight) to prevent covert militarization of the ISS, or it's future replacement? More specifically, how do we prevent some corporation, de-facto owned and operated by, say, China, from making it a covert military station in LEO?
    • I'll build a bit on your point.

      Private corporations aren't interested much in scientific research, they're interested in return-on-investment, and at the moment anything that isn't a productive satellite being launched into LEO isn't profitable.

      There's a fine detail that I'd like to add. It isn't so much "return on investment" as it is "expected return on investment". Rather than knowing (within statistical likelihood) the return for a given investment in an industry, the notion of industrialized spaceflight is still extremely risky, so all calculations of that ROI necessarily must include the risk of the whole thing exploding on the launchpad.

      We can't really mine asteroids, because there's still a good chance that t

    • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:35PM (#56109491) Homepage Journal

      1. There's great expense

      Main reason for the great expense (of putting up the ISS and maintaining it) was that the govt spent $1 billion - $2 billion (depending on who you ask) per Shuttle launch to get up there.

      Falcon Heavy costs less than 1/10th of that now, perhaps 1/100th of that in the near future, and carries more payload per launch to boot.

      and little profit,

      Actually it's no profit, because profit was never a mission requirement. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent for some science missions and international cooperation kumbaya. But really the biggest (but unspoken) mission requirement was to give Shuttle a reason for existing, and keeping the gravy train coming for defense contractors.

      More specifically, how do we prevent some corporation, de-facto owned and operated by, say, China, from making it a covert military station in LEO?

      Don't sell it to China? Seems like a real simple solution.

      When the times nears that ISS needs to be de-orbited or given costly maintenance, it might be sensible to just give it away to SpaceX in return for promising to keep it in orbit and operational for a certain number of years. They might be able to do something useful with it. Because whatever the government ends up spending to repair anything, you know Elon can do it for an order of magnitude cheaper.

      • Some actual numbers (Score:4, Interesting)

        by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:49PM (#56109599)

        Main reason for the great expense (of putting up the ISS and maintaining it) was that the govt spent $1 billion - $2 billion (depending on who you ask) per Shuttle launch to get up there.

        The Shuttle hasn't been involved since 2011 and the ISS costs somewhere around $3 Billion/year according to NASA. According to NASA launch and transport costs account for about 34% [nasa.gov] of ISS operating costs. Systems operation and maintenance accounts for about 43% of costs.

        Falcon Heavy costs less than 1/10th of that now, perhaps 1/100th of that in the near future, and carries more payload per launch to boot.

        They don't need Falcon Heavy to support the ISS at this point. Falcon 9 is already supply resupply missions.

        When the times nears that ISS needs to be de-orbited or given costly maintenance, it might be sensible to just give it away to SpaceX in return for promising to keep it in orbit and operational for a certain number of years.

        Give me a credible reason why SpaceX would be interested. Their only interest in the ISS is in providing transport services to and from. There is no obvious profit in actually owning the station to them.
         

        • The Shuttle hasn't been involved since 2011 and the ISS costs somewhere around $3 Billion/year according to NASA. According to NASA launch and transport costs account for about 34% of ISS operating costs. Systems operation and maintenance accounts for about 43% of costs.

          You're talking about this year's operating costs. I'm talking about the whole thing, starting from the 1990's, cost to build it and launch it piece by piece, R&D, everything. That's what I meant by "great expense".

          They don't need Falcon Heavy to support the ISS at this point. Falcon 9 is already supply resupply missions

          I'm not talking about supporting the ISS with food and water. If launch costs are cheap enough you can do extensive modifications or add additional modules. All indications point to launch costs becoming that cheap in the near future.

          I may have misinterpreted Elon's recent statements, but the

      • Don't sell it to China? Seems like a real simple solution.

        I don't think you got my meaning: what if a corporation that is covertly owned and operated by, say, the Chinese government, buys it? There needs to be some sort of oversight to prevent bad actors from doing precisely this.

  • It seems unlikely that any corporation would take on something like that - even SpaceX. It's a good platform for experiments and such, but it's not a money-maker. In fact, it's quite the opposite, and privatization of the ISS will not happen for that very reason.
    • If I leave the window open at home, some flies might get in and annoy me. If someone makes even a tiny, little mistake on the ISS, everyone may die. Astronauts train for years and have safety drilled into them. Wealthy tourists will surely resist being told what to do.
      • If someone makes even a tiny, little mistake on the ISS, everyone may die...Wealthy tourists will surely resist being told what to do.

        Seems like a first world problem and solution. When do we start sending up billionaires?

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:15PM (#56109309)

    According to a document obtained by the Post, the current administration is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private industry instead of de-orbiting

    I'm having trouble imagining a scenario where private industry would be interested since there is no obvious profit motive or path to profitability in an orbiting laboratory. Even if they gave it away it would cost a huge amount of money to keep it running and how is any responsible private company going to pay for it?

  • by ToTheStars ( 4807725 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:17PM (#56109331)
    ...This is a discussion that's been ongoing for years now, as the ISS reaches the end of many critical components' design lifetime (particularly the life support, which was finicky when it was new and has not exactly aged like wine). The Trump administration may be somewhat more likely to actually go ahead with privatization, but it's not like the Obama and Bush administrations never considered it either. I'm sure the Trump administration will find, like its predecessors, that it's great to talk about selling the ISS but that there's not exactly a big line of potential buyers...the most serious discussions of private space stations (such as by Bigelow) are focused around much smaller installations.
  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @01:18PM (#56109337)

    I have no doubt that someone in this clusterfuck of an administration thinks "privatizing" the ISS would be a good idea, but I can't even see how it's a full-fledged idea, let alone a good one.

    What's to be privatized? The entire station? Operations? Transit and resupply? All of it?

    Private industry doesn't want to own the ISS. It was tailor-made for science, not for tourism, so it would make an awful space hotel. There isn't much demand for science on it from private industry - there's some, but the bulk of it is for NASA et al. trying to figure out how to do deep space exploration better. And let's not forget, half the ISS belongs to other countries. You could probably convince Russia to part with it for enough cash, but Japan? Canada? Seems unlikely. Not to mention, the ISS is nearing end-of-life - it's planned to be de-orbited sometime in the 2020s, because it's just not worth the cost of keeping it running past its designed lifespan.

    Operations (replacing NASA's Johnson Space Center with private contractors) is vaguely doable but it doesn't play to private industry strengths. It's a one-off thing, no economies of scale, and it's so safety-critical that you can't shave much cost without risking lives. It's a zero-income project so the only way to squeeze a better profit out is to reduce expenses, and I just don't see how you could do that by any meaningful amount without inviting disaster. If this happens, it's a money-grab - some contractor with lots of donations to the GOP and/or direct connections to Trump will get a contract for several times what we currently pay, and they still will probably fuck it up.

    As for replacing transit and resupply... we're already doing that. The Commercial Cargo Development program started under the Bush presidency, and Commercial Crew Development started under Obama. First crewed flights are expected this year. So this is just more of the Trump regime taking credit for stuff Obama (and Bush) did, while doing their best to burn everything to the ground.

    • Big ones, too. We'll keep doing what we're doing but we'll hand it all to a buddy of Trump's who will tack on 20% more cost. It's just simple grift. Nothing more (or less).
      • I think 20% is a pretty low estimate. Tack on another zero and you might be in the right ballpark.

    • I agree with everything you say, except the part where you miss that the whole point of this is that they are privatizing _instead_ of decommissioning/deorbiting. It doesn't change anything for the operational life of the ISS so there is no cash grab here.
      The only question is whether anyone can find enough value in it to balance the costs of support and upkeep for a system past its warranty date.
    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )

      Yes, I would have labeled this as good-luck-with-that dept. For one, there has not been a huge demand for ISS by either business or science (commercial or govt). It seems ISS is a legacy of the 1950s Werner Von Braun concept outlined in Colliers magazine. Maybe space travel doesn't scale up like air travel (though ISS doesn't travel "anywhere").

      On subject of privatizing reminds me of Agimarc commented in Dennis Wingo’s latest blog, https://denniswingo.wordpress.... [wordpress.com]

      I think the question needs to be broken into two pieces – Why to go? Who pays for it? The first part is some combination of figuring out how our neighborhood (the solar system) works, identifying, opening, and moving into a frontier, somewhere we’ve never been. Add to that, the willingness of some, to choose to explore, experience, and eventually permanently move into the frontier.

    • Not to mention it doesn't solely belong to the USA - hence the name International Space Station. The first module was built by Russia and put into orbit by America as an example.

    • Seriously .. I don't think Trump's administration can do a thing without getting attacked for it. But this strikes me as a great idea. I mean, who cares if no private industry ends up wanting to buy the ISS? At least you can offer it up for sale and see what happens? If you just de-orbit the thing, you make absolutely NO money from it at the end and just add some pollution to the air.

      As far as who would actually want to buy an orbiting research lab? Off-hand, I'm thinking big pharmaceutical firms might ha

    • You're at a party, you spy Elon Musk, and you walk up to him and ask 'What could you do if you could have the ISS for free?" When he asks you to confirm the price you say "Yes, for free - it's outlived it's useful life, and me and the folks at NASA were wondering what you would do with it, rather than our original plan to drive it into the Pacific Ocean in 18 months."

      "Well, in that case I'd....."

      I bet his answer wouldn't involve gouging the US taxpayer to grow plants in space as part of some contrived scien

  • This might not be a bad solution, depending on how it's implemented. Everything managed by NASA costs more. Paying private companies for running the space station might be less expensive and incur lower overhead.

    Just like the cost difference between the Falcon Heavy, BFR, and SLS. Falcon Heavy launches will run right around $90 million, $95 million for fully expendable. SLS launches will cost a billion each. Delta IV Heavy is $400 to $600 million each, depending on when they're booked.

    Just depends on th

  • About time all those private ISS customers started ponying up.

  • What could you do with your own orbiting weapons platform?

    It's not NASA is going to be able police you. And does any world military have the ability to the shoot it down with currently online weapons?

    Hmmmm.

  • In this case it means monetizing what would otherwise turn into a brief flaming fireball in the sky.

    Imagine what a company like SpaceX could do with it...

    Remember when GM was going through bankruptcy? Rather than bailing out GM, imagine if a company like Tesla had bought one of GMs bigger plants at pennies on the dollar - I bet you'd see a lot more Tesla's on the road, a lot more charging stations in your neighborhood, and a bit less greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere - but no, instead the Democrats proppe

    • General Motors has a Total Assets (Quarterly) of 212.48B. And annual sales of $166B.
      I think you're confused on what the value of that company actually is. It's not the market cap of $50B. Market cap really is the "pennies on the dollar" number that is based on belief in future profitability. If you were to liquidate the entire business, you'd get a very different number. And in GM's case the hard asset value alone is worth about three times what Tesla is worth.

      So I really have no idea where you think Tesla

    • GM is huge! They are linked to a million jobs; yes most would be temporarily impacts but it would have had a big impact on the economy... At the time we had a depression already wreaking global havoc which didn't recover until around the last few years.

      Tesla couldn't expand and borrow enough to buy up all that GM junk, they are running on massive debts NOW and they are TINY compared to GM! JUST THINK ABOUT IT.

      FOREIGN car companies that were all getting help from their governments because they are big parts

  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @03:09PM (#56110317) Homepage Journal

    We can bid on the Oval Office to be President for 1 term. AirBnB the Queen's Bedroom and Lincoln Bedroom, bidding starts at $100k/night. Those with wealth and success are obviously the most qualified to run the country and deserve the perks of their success and our admiration.

  • Ladies and gentlemen, with today's launch of the Ayn Rand Space Station we're able to finally ensure lasting peace and corporation between multinational mega corporations from all over the world. What a joy to see Lockheed, Airbus, Mitsubishi, and BAE finally working toward a common profit target. Remember to sign up for Hulu Plus to view live streams from the ARSS with limited commercial interruption!
  • This is the first thing to come from the Trump White House that I actually think might be a good idea.

    I'd rather see the ISS in orbit under the care of private companies who might actually to something really interesting with it than see it become a pretty light show in the sky.

  • When considering the remaining useful life of the station it's helpful to that the oldest modules are approaching 20 years in orbit, and took years to build before reaching orbit.

    I seem to recall that the Russians indicated they are willing to separate the American segments and continue operating the station independently if necessary. This would not be trivial, as big chunks of the ECLSS are in the US Lab, Destiny, and Tranquility modules.

    It's unclear what revenue streams could be supported by a private s

The amount of beauty required launch 1 ship = 1 Millihelen

Working...