NASA has always said the International Space Station (ISS) would not be a permanent project in Earth’s orbit, but now it has revealed that, within a decade, it hopes to sell off the station to a private company.
As the largest human-constructed object in space, costing more than €100bn, the ISS remains one of humankind’s greatest engineering achievements.
However, in the years that have passed since the first modules were launched into orbit in 2000, it has become clear that international space agencies like NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos are not going to fund it forever.
While new modules are currently being installed on the ISS for scientific-testing purposes, NASA has now revealed during a panel discussion on its future mission to land humans on Mars that the ISS will be sold off to private space company within the next decade.
Its aim, according to NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, Bill Hill, is to work with private space companies to help us get to Mars faster than NASA could achieve on its own.
During the discussion, Hill said: “Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-earth orbit, we figure that will be in the mid-20s.”
This would follow the intentions of the current US presidency under Barack Obama, which had penned 2024 as the final year it would directly fund the ISS, despite Boeing’s efforts to conduct a feasibility study to see if it could last until 2028.
In fact, Boeing has already contributed to the space station’s commercial future with the installation of a new docking bay.
Capable of hosting two astronauts, the docking bay will act as the commercial hub for the ISS and is designed to be compatible with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon craft.