The International Space Station 2022 Transition Plan outlined NASA’s goal for the next decade of the microgravity laboratory, which is to bring huge scientific, educational, and technological advances to Earth while also enabling mankind to journey into deep space. NASA provided information on the station’s current end-of-life plans as part of the plan. The most frequently asked questions on this subject are addressed in the list of questions below, along with NASA engineers’ and experts’ responses. NASA’s safety advisors have warned that the agency’s efforts to seamlessly shift from the International Space Station (ISS) to commercial space stations are on a “precarious track.”
Members of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel expressed their concerns during a meeting on July 21 that commercial stations whose construction is being funded by NASA were not likely to be completed before the ISS is decommissioned at the close of the decade as well as that such efforts were hampered by inadequate finances.
NASA’s Commercial LEO (Leo Earth Orbit) Destinations plans “are on a dangerous trajectory to a realization on a timeframe and within the predicted resources required to maintain a NASA LEO presence,” according to panel chair Patricia Sanders. “We are concerned about this”
In December, NASA chose proposals from groups led by Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin, and Nanoracks, for financed Space Act Agreements to further their concepts for commercial space stations. The agency does have a separate deal with Axiom Space that grants that firm access to a port on the ISS, where the company is getting ready to install several commercial modules which will eventually make up the core of a standalone station.
But according to panelist Amy Donahue, NASA won’t formally announce the conditions for using those stations until late 2024. Given the ISS’s estimated retirement in the year 2030, “there is very little margin for maintaining a sustained US presence in LEO,” she said.
The panel was concerned about human-rating a commercial station, she said, noting that the present plan calls for doing so quicker than any other government human spaceflight mission since Mercury. It begs the question of what NASA could do to lessen the likelihood that it won’t meet this deadline, she said. “From a risk perspective, it’s definitely a problem for us.”
The panel’s warning that NASA’s replacement timeline for the ISS might not be feasible is not the first to make such a claim. Just before NASA announced its commercial space station awards in November of last year, the Office of Inspector General of NASA issued a report warning that a commercial station “is not expected to be completed until far after 2030” and that NASA’s timeline for accomplishing one or even more ready by 2030 “is unreasonable.”