Donald Trump Wants To Privatise The International Space Station.

The International Space Station is currently scheduled to remain operational until 2028.

The International Space Station is currently scheduled to remain operational until 2028.

Surprise, surprise! The Trump administration is looking to turn the International Space Station (ISS) over to the private sector, according to NASA documents obtained by the Washington Post.

According to the documents, the White House plans to stop contributing to the ISS after 2024 which has attracted a raft of criticism from US senators — especially since the nation spent $US100 billion to use and operate it.

We asked astronomer and astrophysicist Brad Tucker from ANU’s Mt Stromlo Observatory what the controversial decision might mean for the future of space exploration.

What does Trump want to do?

According to the report, US President Donald Trump wants to, “end direct federal support for the ISS by 2025”. In other words, Mr Trump is looking to sell off the US stake in the space station, enabling private companies and groups — like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic — to use the ISS for their own projects.

And it plans to spend $US150 million in 2019, with more additional years, “to enable the development and maturation” of private companies to take over the ISS. But why would the US want to sell the ISS while it’s still operational, you ask?

Quite simply, because the US and Russia want to spend money and focus their interests on the Moon and Mars instead.

Can the US sell off the ISS?

The ISS is an international co-operative program between the US, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan. In 1998, the 15 governments involved in the Space Station project signed an international treaty, allowing the partners to extend their national jurisdiction in outer space. What that means is that each country has control of its share of the space station so each country is within their rights to sell their stake.

But, in the case of the United States, Mr Trump will need the approval of congress to go ahead with it — which Dr Tucker says would be a wise financial decision. “The current situation with the space station is that it is only funded until 2024. Both the US and Russia are the two main partners, so if Russia hasn’t committed, the US can’t be stuck with the whole bill (which is double the cost essentially),” Dr Tucker said.

And at this stage, Russia has also only committed to fund the ISS until 2024. “Ultimately if the US says, ‘Hey, we’re backing out, we’re not paying for it’ there’s going to be very little way for other groups to stop them,” Dr Tucker said.

“The biggest hurdle would come from Congress and the US populous but if everyone says, ‘Yes, we want to pull our money out of the US space station’, there would be very little ramifications other than hurting future cooperation models.” It’s also worth bearing in mind space privatisation is not a new thing.

“George Bush really gave birth to the privatisation of space,” Dr Tucker explained. “He realised that in order to get to Mars and get back to the Moon, you can’t fund the space shuttle program because every time that space shuttle went up it cost $US1.2 billion — and that was a lot of money.”

The Space Shuttle program eventually came to an end under Barack Obama’s presidency — which Mr Trump was not pleased about at the time. Source:  ABC News Broadcasting Corporation)

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